City councillor sent his tweet out before police knew the age of the suspects involved. Expert in law says police post photos of young persons without knowing their age “all the time.”
June 15, 2017
City councillor Norm Kelly finally removed photos of two crime suspects from his Twitter feed Thursday, two days after Toronto police identified the pair as young persons and said the pictures can’t be published.
Toronto police issued a release Monday morning with a photo of the suspects, saying the pair, reportedly armed with a knife and an “aerosol substance,” approached several males walking in the Homeland Ave./Maitland Pl. area on May 28.
They allegedly attempted to rob the men of their belongings and at least two people were stabbed.
Later on Monday, Kelly tweeted: “These two cowards robbed and stabbed innocent people in our city,” alongside a pair of photos of the suspects, urging his followers to send tips to Toronto police.
After Kelly posted the tweet, Toronto police sent a “direct message” to the councillor on Twitter to inform him that they had removed the images of the suspects and that the pair had been identified as below the age of 18, according to constable Scott Mills, the TPS’ social media relations officer.
A day later, after councillor Kelly didn’t respond to the direct message, Toronto police informed the councillor publicly on Twitter that: “Both males have been ID’d now. They are under 18. Their photos can no longer be published.”
Subject to section 110 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, “no person shall publish the name of a young person, or any other information related to a young person, if it would identify the young person.”
Kelly’s delay in removing the photos attracted criticism from lawyers.
“My concern is that, if he knew for three days and he didn’t do anything, then, that could very well be the basis of a YCJA violation that could be punishable by two years incarceration,” said Paradigm Legal Group youth criminal lawyer and University of Toronto professor Emma Rhodes.
“You have to abide by the law,” added Mills, who admitted Toronto police don’t always know the age of suspects when they release images. “If they are subsequently identified, their photo can’t be circulated. If you refuse, you would be breaking the law.”
Rhodes, who co-wrote a book on prosecuting and defending youth cases, says police departments post photos of young persons without knowing their age “all the time.”
The law, in handling social media, is 10 to 15 years behind, she says.
But tweeting now qualifies as publishing.
“The duty of the person is to know that if they are publishing something or a picture where they know that it’s a young person’s identity, then they face the same threat of prosecution (as publications),” she added. “That, again, is a problem with social media.”
The councillor has more than 526,000 followers and was active on Twitter while requests for the tweet’s deletion lingered.
There are unintended consequences to leaving an identifying tweet online, even after deletion, according to Bhupesh Shah, who heads Seneca College’s social media program.
“If something was published and it was inappropriate and then it was deleted, how do you trace and track and monitor and influence others to not continue to share that particular image or tweet or what have you?
“It’s difficult to do . . . because of the nature of the Internet. It’s really hard to stop because it spreads like wildfire,” Shah said.
The tweet was shared by more than 500 other accounts.
“Toronto police tweeted at Norm, advising him that the photos can’t be published as they were found to be young offenders. The tweet was put out prior to that being discovered and there wasn’t a direct request to delete the tweet,” the councillor’s office told the Star in a statement.
“We’ve been in touch with Toronto police this morning and they clarified the request. Since then, Norm deleted it.”
The councillor told Toronto police he was under the impression that the proscription against publishing the young peoples’ images applied to future use of them, and was not retroactive, Mills said.
“A reasonable person would say ‘I’m going to delete that, because, oh, I didn’t realize this was illegal and I’ll delete it,’ ” Shah said. “However, because it’s the Internet, it’s kind of hard to control that.”
From the perspective of the law, deleting the tweet would come down to “whether he wants to face prosecution because that would be the question because it is a serious offence,” Rhodes said.
Toronto police continue to seek the public’s assistance in their investigation of the suspected robberies.