Facebook phenomenon latest legal obstacle, say critics
Toronto police say the use of a Facebook web site in the Stefanie Rengel case highlights the futility of imposing publication bans and that something needs to be done to update the law.
Under restrictions imposed by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, media outlets were banned from identifying either the victim or two teenagers accused in the girl's death.
Despite the ban, all three identities, including pictures, are being freely posted on Facebook, which is against the law.
Police and legal experts are concerned that those actions might affect the right to a fair trial for a teenaged boy and girl charged in Rengel's death.
The 14-year-old died New Year's Day in hospital of stab wounds after being found bleeding on the sidewalk near O'Connor Drive and St. Clair Avenue by a passerby.
Mark Pugash, spokesman for the Toronto Police Service, says the Rengel case is a perfect example of how Facebook can often interfere with the rule of law.
"We simply have no control," he said. "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 process who have to look and see whether changes are necessary."
Police released the name of the victim Thursday after obtaining the consent of her parents, as required by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Martha McKinnon, executive director of Justice for Children and Youth, says the answer is education. She says many Facebook users are teens and may not even know they are breaking the law.
"Neither the federal nor provincial government have invested any resources into educating the public about why we have these confidence provisions [in the Youth Criminal Justice Act]; what they are for ... so that people will actually know what the law is," she said.
Legal observers say the case shows the law's inability to keep up with those who wish to express themselves on the internet.