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Publication ban in Pitt rave case being ignored online

The guilty plea was entered in December and a sentencing hearing is to be held next week.  - THE NEWS/files
The guilty plea was entered in December and a sentencing hearing is to be held next week.
— image credit: THE NEWS/files

A publication ban meant to protect the identity of the girl at the centre of allegations stemming from a rave in Pitt Meadows two years ago has been repeatedly violated on the Internet.

The teen’s name can be found on a gossip website, and has been Tweeted and posted on Facebook.

A Google search of either the young woman’s name or the infamous party also turns up results that link her back to the case.

“When you Google [her name] on the Internet, all of those news stories will appear. This will follow her for her entire life,” said the girl’s mother in a victim impact statement she gave in court Feb. 6.

Originally charged with more serious offence of possessing and distributing child pornography, Warrington pleaded guilty in December to a lesser count of distributing obscene material for posting three photographs of the girl on Facebook.

The photographs were graphic, close-ups of a couple having sex – the faces of the girl and boy obscured.

The girl and her parents told the court at a sentencing hearing last week for Warrington that, to this day, the bullying continues online.

She told the court her daughter will have to disclose who she is to future employers because they will eventually find out about her past when they Google her name.

“I feel powerless to stop the bullying,” said the teen’s the mother.

“The Internet is a lawless society and people think they can do whatever they want.”

Outside court, Crown prosecutor Wendy van Tongeren Harvey confirmed she was aware that the publication ban connected to the case had been violated.

She said that she even approached a young man who had been naming the teenage victim to get him to stop.

A criminal investigation, however, is not underway.

Ridge Meadows RCMP are aware of several violations, but revealed there wasn’t an active investigation.

Sgt. Dale Somerville reiterated that the court-imposed publication ban restricts anyone from publishing the victim’s name or any details that may identify her.

But police would not speak about social media and the complexities of determining the identity of the person behind an online post.

In Canada, a news organization that breaks a publication ban will almost certainly face criminal prosecution and be fined. But the same enforcement has failed to apply to the Internet.

Neil MacKenzie, with B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch, explains that police are tasked with investigating the violation of a publication ban.

“Speaking generally, where Crown becomes aware of a breach or a possible breach, we may bring it to the attention of police,” said MacKenzie.

“But generally, we would treat communications of that type as confidential.”

MacKenzie acknowledged that the Internet does present unique challenges, especially when it comes to identity.

“One of the things Crown has to prove in relation to an offence is the identity of the alleged offender. That’s something the Crown has to establish based on evidence police is collected,” said MacKenzie.

The Pitt Meadows rave case isn’t the only situation where a publication ban has been violated online.

A 12-year-old girl from Alberta who murdered of her family with help from a much older boyfriend was named online in posts that included photographs of her.

During the Pickton trial, information barred from publication was posted on a citizen journalism website, but taken down after the breach was discovered.

Dr. Emma Cunliffe, an assistant professor in the UBC Faculty of Law, believes provisions that already exist in Canada’s Criminal Code are sufficient to prosecute those who violate publication bans on the Internet and does not need to be updated.

“It’s a simply very straight forward offence,” said Cunliffe.

“Section 486.4 makes it very clear that an order directing that any information about the complainant must not be published in any document or broadcast in any way. That is sufficiently broad to cover publication on the Internet.”

Cunliffe doesn’t want to speculate about why Crown or police have not pursued charges against those who violated or continue to violate the publication ban when it comes to the Pitt Meadows rave case, but hopes it isn’t an issue of resources.

It could be that police might not want to use limited resources to investigate a possible breach of a publication ban when there’s a child pornography ring at work, she said.

“Especially when you are talking about a case like this -  a young girl who has already been victimized. The idea that it might follow her through her adulthood and career is really a devastating one.”

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