** Updated in Dec. 2014 and Jan 2015 on the fight to honour Rehtaeh Parsons and win justice in her case. See the postscript below. And you can visit the website of the Rehtaeh Parsons Society, founded in 2014.
August 9, 2013–Yesterday, Halifax police and the RCMP arrested two 18 year old men in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year old woman who committed suicide four months ago. They are charged with disseminating “child porn”, namely a photo of an alleged sexual assault against Parsons.
The young woman endured 18 months of bullying and intimidation after a photo of a sexual assault she allegedly suffered in November 2011 was widely disseminated at her school and on the internet.
Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, told CBC Radio’s As It Happens program yesterday that the criminal charges cannot bring justice for her daughter. She and Glen Canning, Rehtaeh’s father, say it’s too late for that—their daughter is dead because school and police officials failed to act promptly to protect her following the 2011 assault. But they hope that their actions in speaking out may protect other young women and their families facing similar circumstances in the future.
Both parents also appeared yesterday on CBC Radio’s The Current. Listen here.
Coincidentally, two days ago, the Nova Scotia NDP government adopted a Cyber Safety Act, the first such law in Canada. The federal government is threatening to adopt a similar law. Writer Jesse Brown appeared on the aforementioned The Current episode and argues that the Nova Scotia cyber-safety law is a serious threat to civil liberties.
Brown calls the law “insane”. He says that existing laws were more than adequate to deal with the assault and bullying against Rehtaeh Parsons. He warns, for example, that journalists who reported on the recent allegations of drug use leveled against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford could have been threatened or charged by such a law for “bullying” the mayor. He has published an essay on the subject here.
Wayne MacKay, a professor of law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, gave an interview last May in which he expressed caution about the threat to civil liberties that cyberbullying laws could present.
My original published article on the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, April 22, 2013, is here: Protests in Nova Scotia following institutional failure to protect Rehtaeh Parsons. The article was published in several outlets, including in The Bullet. Further below is a comment on my article that was posted to The Bullet.
Postscript, Jan 15, 2015:
A court-ordered publication ban on the name of Rehtaeh Parsons was lifted by Nova Scotia’s minister of justice on Dec. 18, 2014. The ban was originally imposed in September 2014 when the first of two trials of the two young men accused of assaulting her began. The parents of Rehtaeh Parsons strongly opposed the ban.
The decision to lift the ban was prompted, in part, by a decision of the Halifax daily Chronicle Herald to defy the publication ban with an article published on Nov. 24 which reported on the conviction of the second of two young men who each pleaded guilty to ‘child pornography’ charges in the case.
The men cannot be named because they were minors at the time of their crime, in autumn 2011. The second teen, now 20 years old, was sentenced to one year probation on Jan. 15, 2015. The first was given a conditional discharge.
Here is the website of the Rehtaeh Parsons Society, recently launched by her parents, relatives and friends “to help people develop tools to address cyberbullying, youth sexual violence, sexting and the circulation of intimate images”. The Society held a public launch in Halifax on Nov 29, 2014.
See a Facebook page devoted to remembering the name and person of Rehtaeh Parsons, here.
Rehtaeh Parsons took her life in April 2013 after suffering a sexual assault by two teenage boys during an alcohol-laden social gathering. The education and justice system in Nova Scotia subsequently failed to protect her and provide justice. She was shunned and mocked in social media and by some of her school peers in the months following the assaults.
The ongoing importance of her story has been brutally underlined by the firestorm sparked by revelations in December 2014 of the existence of a circle of mysogynist students at the Faculty of Dentistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The university administration has reponded to the revelation with what many students, staff and alumni consider to be a slap on the wrist of the accused dental students.
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Comment to The Bullet in response to Protests in Nova Scotia following institutional failure to protect Rehtaeh Parsons, by Roger Annis, April 22, 2013:
April 23, 2013
Thank you very much for this moving, informative and essential article. Here in South Africa, (and I am sure in many other parts of the world) the similarities are starkly obvious, and especially in terms of the gap between rhetoric, policies, and the practices of our institutions and sadly many of our leaders. Cases like the one described lay bare the deeply rooted sexist and patriarchical bias that permeates through many of our institutions and serves to alert us that so much more needs to be done. Not least that we need to build real democracies where all citizens are protected, respected and steadily encouraged to behave in a humane manner towards one another. We need to counter the view that the behaviour referred to in the article is in anyway ‘normal’ but is intrinsically linked to the cut throat imperatives of the so-called competitive market, and its spurious promises based on an anti-social and exploitative culture.
From South Africa, we send our deepest condolences to the Parsons family, friends and community in the hope that your pain will be eventually eclipsed by happier memories. To activists like ourselves, we send encouragement, solidarity and a willingness to build strong linkages in the belief that another world is possible, and as if further evidence was required, increasingly necessary. Thank you again for writing the article and The Bullet for publishing.
Hamba Kahle Rehtaeh Parsons, Hamba Kahle*
International Officer, South African Municipal Workers Union of COSATU South Africa.
(*Go well, in Isizulu language)