Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Rehtaeh Parsons. (Family photo)

Once again the justice system and the school system has failed a young woman from Cole Harbour Nova Scotia and the results were tragic as a vibrant, intelligent young lady named Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life while her family searches for answers not readily available. 

By now many people have heard the sad saga of Rehtaeh Parsons.  At the age of 15 the young girl was left alone at a family friends house and was sexually assaulted by four young men, one of whom took the time to take a picture and freely distribute it around the school.  It was a despicable crime, furthered by the viciousness of some of the young men in question when they sent it around the school.   The young girl was tormented, harassed and bullied and it continued even after she was driven her out of the school.

 The now 17 year old took her own life by hanging herself in the bathroom of her home while her mother and boyfriend tried frantically to get in and revive her.  Three days after the event her family took her off life support and took to social media to express their outrage at the failings of the justice system.  

Somehow despite a widely circulated photo and a torrent of hate propaganda spread via social media, neither the school administration nor the police saw fit to lay any charges in the case. The school, citing privacy concerns, would not comment on whether or not the perpetrators were suspended,  Ironic that privacy concerns would help out this cruel perpetrators while nothing could be done about a very, very public obscene picture that was taken.  This is the first of many missteps that would plague the investigation, a term some may use lightly in this case.   

The police cited the photo and the volume of social media outrage directed towards young Rehtaeh as more of a community concern than a police matter.   In response to that I present to you the Criminal Code on Harassment, and let you draw your own conclusions as to whether or not any of the principles apply:  

  • calling you over and over again, and perhaps hanging up whenever you answer the phone 
  • contacting you on the Internet or through constant e-mail messages 
  • following you, your family or friends 
  • leaving threatening voice messages 
  • sending you gifts you do not want 
  • watching you or tracking where you go 
  • threatening you, your children, family, pets or friends 
Worth an investigation at least don't you think?   

A rape kit was not available as Rehtaeh did not tell her parents about the incident until a few days after, something that is not uncommon in sexual assault cases.  It is not easy to prove sexual assault beyond a reasonable doubt as there is either a lack of witnesses, or in this case, reluctant witnesses who could very well be incriminated.  That said, no stone should have been left unturned in this case to try and get some form of satisfactory justice for the Parsons family.   

Justice Minister Ross Landry promises a full investigation into the actions of the RCMP, and here is hoping that the wagons are circled and the justice system protecting their own.   I hope that he probes this interview that was done by the CBC with one officer who shows absolutely no empathy or really much of a clue as to how to legally handle social media.   

You can see the video here: 

I commend the mother of Rehtaeh for working through her grief and highlighting the flaws that were apparent in this system and hope that Minister Landry follows through on his promise to look into the laws surrounding sexual assault and distribution of child pornography.   

Here is hoping that something real actually gets down rather than a lot of finger pointing, a battening down of the hatches and a hope that the controversy passes.

Time to educate the youth of the perils of social media, and by educate, I mean punish.   Suspensions and expulsions must be meted out at the school level, charges must be laid, and at the very least, the fear of God must be struck into some of these youngsters who feel that they can get away with this sort of behavior. 

If not, the cycle will continue. 

Steve Clark

You can find the Facebook memorial page here

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