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Lawyer urges caution as beaten man's family goes online

Police have said very little about Calgary man Dustin LaFortune, who was emaciated, burned and beaten when he was dumped at a Regina hospital after being missing for a couple of months.

Police have said very little about Calgary man Dustin LaFortune, who was emaciated, burned and beaten when he was dumped at a Regina hospital after being missing for a couple of months.

But the man’s family is sharing all kinds of details on the Internet, even naming a person they consider a suspect and fielding questions from the public.

That kind of online release of information, through Facebook or other social networking sites, could lead to legal trouble, one media lawyer warned yesterday.

“There’s this ability to be a publisher and to get information out there, but there are also some legal pitfalls that people who are doing that need to be aware of,” said Daniel Burnett, a Vancouver media lawyer.

“People need to be aware that if they’re publishing something that might interfere with a criminal trial, that’s a problem.”

LaFortune’s relatives have started a Facebook page with photos of him lying in a hospital bed with burns, bruises and cuts on his body.

He “was held hostage, tortured, starved, repeatedly assaulted and mutilated” while being drugged, his mother Renee LaFortune writes on a Facebook page.

They have named and put up a photograph of the man they believe attacked LaFortune — a former roommate — and have talked online and in media interviews about what they believe happened.

Supporters have added to the discussion by putting up photos of a home rented by the man the family believes was the attacker. One supporter posted information about the alleged suspect’s family tree. LaFortune’s brother, Ryan, has started answering questions from supporters in an online forum.

For Burnett, the case is another example of how the Internet can circumvent official channels such as police agencies or media outlets to distribute information.