Ottawa

Police issue publication ban warning in youth manslaughter case

Not long after a 15-year-old from Brockville, Ont., was arrested and charged in connection to the death of a 33-year-old man, police in the eastern Ontario city are warning residents against violating a publication ban issued by the court.

Brockville teen charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, obstructing police, assault

Police in Brockville, Ont., are warning residents not to break a publication ban protecting the identify of a 15-year-old charged with manslaughter in the September death of Damian Sobieraj. (CBC)

Not long after a 15-year-old from Brockville, Ont., was arrested and charged in connection to the death of a 33-year-old man, police in the eastern Ontario city are warning residents against violating a publication ban issued by the court.

The publication ban is routine procedure in criminal cases involving youths. The Youth Criminal Justice Act prohibits people from publishing anything that could help identify someone under 18 who's been charged with a crime.

In this case, the teen is facing charges of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, obstructing police and assault after Damian Sobieraj's body was found in the St. Lawrence River on Sept. 14, 2018.

Damian Sobieraj, 33, was found dead in the St. Lawrence River near downtown waterfront Brockville on Sept. 14, 2018. (Brockville Police Service)

The publication ban in the Sobieraj case "extends not only to members of the media, but to publications on social media as well," Brockville police reminded residents in a recent news release.

"The Brockville Police Service understands and is sympathetic to the concerns expressed by members of the community, and is doing our best to address them. Nonetheless we must remind the public that ignoring a publication ban may result in an offence under ... the Criminal Code ... and could affect the present matters before the court."

Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt told CBC Radio's Ontario Morning on Tuesday that one of the goals of these publication bans is to avoid undue prejudice against young offenders.

'Main goal is rehabilitation'

"We recognize that primarily for young people, the main goal is rehabilitation, and rehabilitation can be frustrated on a long-term basis if a youth's name is printed on the internet, forever searchable," he said.

It can also interfere with trials, Spratt said.

"You don't want members of the community — especially members of the community who might someday end up on a jury hearing the case — to be prejudging things based on rumours and innuendo and perhaps facts that they've actually heard leading up to the trial."

Criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

A private conversation between two or three people at a party is one thing, but posting information on Facebook or Twitter is another.

"It used to be that the only way you could publish these details is if you had a printing press or were a part of an accredited press. But nowadays you have social media, we have blogs and podcasts, and member of the public can be publishers themselves. And the same principles apply," Spratt said.

"It can be a bit of a grey area. You need to not only do the act, the publication, but know you're violating a ban. And I think that's why we're seeing police take the reasonable step of warning individuals. This is sort of an emerging problem that we have, where individuals are able to self-publish in a way that would attract the attention of police."