An online video believed to be linked to a Montreal murder and dismemberment case has stirred debate about web hosting, user-submitted content and legal responsibility.
Reports indicate police are weighing whether the owner of BestGore.com, an Edmonton-based website specializing in gruesome content, should face charges for hosting a video that purportedly depicts a naked man being stabbed with an ice pick and eventually dismembered.
Police believe the chilling video, titled "1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick," may depict the death and dismemberment of a 33-year-old Chinese student at a Montreal university.
Speculation has abounded about whether website owner Mark Marek can face obscenity charges for carrying what is thought to be real footage of a grisly murder.
Multiple reports indicate charges are pending, but Marek says he hasn't heard from police.
"Up to this point, the police have not made contact with me. I removed the video on my own terms, not on the request by the police," he wrote in an email to the Canadian Press.
Curious web surfers were able to access the video on BestGore.com until Montreal police identified Luka Rocco Magnotta as a suspect in the death of Jun Lin, said Marek.
Police believe Lin is the person who is shown being stabbed and mutilated in the video. His torso was discovered near Magnotta's Montreal apartment last week. Police later linked the torso to a severed hand and foot that were mailed to the offices of political parties in Ottawa.
Lawyer Mark Hayes of Hayes eLaw LLP says, from a legal standpoint, the video is obscene.
"Our laws treat obscenity as being harm-based and there's a lot of harm in that video, not just to the individuals involved but potentially to society," he told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday.
Whether or not Marek should be charged, said Hayes, remains the real sticking point.
According to Hayes, police will attempt to answer certain questions before obscenity charges are laid. These might include:
- How long did the video remain online?
- Was the content being "distributed?"
- What was the webmaster's intent in keeping this video up?
- Marek has told CP that he initially thought the video was a bad joke, and may have been made by someone with access to dead bodies. In a statement posted to his website, Marek suggested that keeping the video up allowed
- BestGore browsers to identify the suspect before police did.
It's unclear how Marek's website received the so-called snuff video, whether it was submitted by a random Internet user or the creator of the film. As well, it's difficult to establish when Marek realized the footage could be real and how long he waited before he disabled it.
Toronto-based lawyer Gil Zvulony, who specializes in matters related to the Internet, said it may not matter whether what was being shown in the video actually happened.
"Whether it was real or fake, the depictions are obscene," he told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. "In my view, keeping it online was improper."
Facing a maelstrom of media attention, Marek has also found himself defending the overall grisly nature of the content on BestGore.com, asserting that his website is a "real news" site.
Zvulony, however, isn't convinced that argument applies.
"Free expression is not a definite right, we have all sorts of limitations," he said.