IMG01299-20100115-2004The debate over freedom of expression and the impact of social networking on democratic rights in the courts is in focus in Canada after a Facebook group became the centre of controversy when it may have violated a publication ban.

The group, which has more than 7,000 members, was set up to commemorate the murder of a 2-year-old boy in Oshawa, Ontario.

The breach of a publication ban could lead to a mistrial, a fine and even jail time. Violating a ban could taint the opinions of witnesses or jurors, and the news media must wait to report information protected under a publication ban until after the trial is over.

The ban on the case of the Oshawa toddler was lifted by the court, but it raised questions over whether court-ordered publication bans are feasible in the Internet era.

With the popularity of such global social networking groups as Facebook and Twitter, can the courts control the pre-trial spread of information? What are the implications for fair trials?