One of the most frequent questions I get asked is why we don't publish the names and pictures of young offenders.
These inquiries have only intensified in recent days following the deadly stolen Hummer crash that resulted in a manslaughter charge being laid against the alleged 18-year-old driver.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about why his name appeared in some publications -- but has never showed up, online or in print, in the Winnipeg Free Press.
Let me explain.
Winnipeg police issued a news release last week, informing the media that they had arrested the young man. The release included his name and clearly stated he was 18. As such, there was no legal reason his name and adult charges couldn't be published or broadcast.
However, it wasn't quite that simple.
I immediately recognized the man as someone I had written about several times previously, most notably for his role in the March 2008 crash that killed a Winnipeg cab driver, Tony Lanzellotti.
He was the alleged driver of a stolen Silverado that was racing another stolen vehicle, an Avalanche, which smashed into the taxi moments later. He later pleaded guilty to his involvement and was sentenced to time in custody and probation.
All of this occurred while he was a youth. He was never raised to adult court. He has no prior criminal record as an adult.
The teen was on probation at the time of the Lanzellotti crash from a previous set of auto theft convictions, and would later get re-involved in court breaches -- still as a youth -- earlier this year. That meant there were three existing probation orders in place at the time of the Hummer crash.
Upon informing editors of this man's background, we had a decision to make.
Do we publish his name and the manslaughter charge -- but leave out any and all reference to previous criminal involvement?
Or do we withhold his name, but tell our readers about his extensive history and link to the other recent deadly crash that shocked and angered Winnipeggers.
The choice was easy. Although we'd love to publish his name, it was clear to us that there was a much bigger issue in play here that needed to be exposed. That could only be done -- legally -- by keeping his name out of the story.
We were the only major Winnipeg media outlet that choose this path. I can only assume this is because most newsrooms/reporters didn't immediately recognize the youth and his connection to the Lanzellotti case.
What happened next is something that puzzles me greatly.
Some media outlets, upon seeing our front-page exclusive the next day linking the same man to TWO deadly crashes 21-months apart, tried to "put the horse back into the barn" by dropping reference to a name they'd already published or broadcast, and now turned their attention to the criminal past we had exposed.
One radio station still had the name of the man on their website while they now shifted focus on-air and discussed his naughty background. Another outlet, earlier this week, had an online reader comment published which included reference to both the man's name AND his criminal past.
I'll leave it smarter minds than me -- are you listening Manitoba Justice? -- to determine whether this constitutes a breach of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Even the Winnipeg Police were seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place -- in their initial news release, they named the 18-year-old boy and mentioned that his charges included four breaches of a sentence.
Problem is, those breaches were of youth matters and should not have been disclosed publicly. Police realized this error later in the day and sent out a corrective, asking media outlets to no longer make any reference to them.
I'll be the first to admit the YCJA is a confusing, and often frustrating, piece of legislation that severely impacts the way we can cover stories. But until/unless something changes, it's the law. We have to play by the rules or face serious consequences.
And that should apply to everyone.