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Filled with emotion following the slaying of a Toronto 14-year-old, people
of all ages headed to Facebook, a social networking site, to post tributes to Stefanie Rengel and make comments about her accused killers.
Many did not know that they were possibly breaking the law. According to a Jan. 4 article on the CBC News website, police and legal experts are concerned that by identifying the victim (during a publication ban) and the accused that the right to a fair trial for the 17-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl might have been jeopardized.
"We simply have no control," Mike Pugash, a spokesman for the Toronto Police Service, was quoted as saying. "I think what the events of the last few days have shown is that there are many people who are part of the criminal justice who have to look and see whether changes are necessary."
The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) states information cannot be published "... if it would identify the child or young person as having been a victim of, or as having appeared as a witness in connection with, an offence committed or alleged to have been committed by a young person." As well, a 24-hour prohibition ban was in effect for the release for Rengel's name, which mainstream media followed.
While some have questioned whether posting on Facebook is in fact publishing. However, Alain Charette, media relations spokesperson for the Department of Justice, was quoted in a Jan. 4 Toronto Star article as saying the restriction "does apply to the Web, including Facebook . generally publication covers a wide spectrum."
The Rengel case is not the only legal situation in early 2008 where Facebook postings and the YCJA have clashed. According to the Star, Facebook users posted the name of a 13-year-old Mississauga boy and the youths charged in relation to his death, which occurred in hospital following an altercation, while the media was abiding by a publication ban.
In Camrose, Alberta, four teenage boys accused of breaking into a home and killing a cat by placing it in a microwave were also identified on Facebook pages, according to a Jan. 7 CanWest Media story. Their names, which were pulled by the police, appeared on several group pages which condemned their actions.
The boys allegedly vandalized the home and stole some items. Someone allegedly wrote in felt pen on the kitchen cabinets: "Nice cat, look in the microwave." The pet's owners were away and its remains were found by a friend looking after the home, according to a Jan. 7 story on the AFP website.
Some of the posts about the three 15-year-olds and one 13-year-old who were charged are threatening. According to the CanWest article, one stated "They will all get their faces smashed in by January 6th," while another read "I would say these monsters should be tortured, let society at them."
At least one Facebook users realized the actions of the others could have an impact on the quartet's future. "You might have just caused them to walk free. . The last thing I want is a mistrial that could have been prevented."
However, some police officers believe Facebook and other social networking sites can be valuable tools in fighting crime among young people. Toronto Police Const. Scott Mills started using Facebook and YouTube about a year ago to communicate with teens who he believes would not otherwise come forward with information.
"I could prevent violence more so from my desk than I could driving around to schools," Mills was quoted as saying in a Jan. 4 article on Canada.com. "Just by being out there, engaging with kids online, you build relationships."
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