Total Pageviews

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Canadian Teenager’s Suicide Case Is Back in Spotlight

The suicide of a Canadian teenager in April revived outrage that the police did not go far enough to investigate allegations that she was gang-raped in 2011, then bullied, after photographs of the assault were shared and posted online. But now the first arrests have been reported by the police, putting the case of the teenager, Rehtaeh Parsons, once again in the spotlight.

On Thursday morning, investigators took two men into custody for questioning, according to the statement by the Halifax district Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In an interview with CP24, Cpl. Scott MacRae, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, described the arrests as a “significant event” in Ms. Parsons’s case. The police have 24 hours to charge or release them.

As The Lede reported in April, the authorities quoted in a Canadian television network’s online report had said there was not enough evidence earlier to bring charges. But Corporal MacRae said on Thursday that the arrests were the result of months of renewed investigation with the regional police into files and additional information after she died.

On April 4, Ms. Parsons hanged herself in the bathroom at home and was discovered when her mother broke down the door. Three days later, she was taken off life support and died.

Her suicide, at age 17, had sparked criticism over how the authorities handled the gang rape allegations and whether they were equipped to fight cyberbullying. Some drew comparisons with the Steubenville rape in Ohio in the United States, because a cellphone photograph that was distributed among students at Ms. Parsons’s school apparently showed the sexual assault taking place.

Ms. Parsons’s case also attracted support from a loose network of hackers who identify themselves as belonging to the Anonymous collective, who said they had uncovered the names of the teenagers believed involved in the rape, soliciting online support through Twitter using #OpJustice4Rehtaeh. A video attributed to Anonymous said that it had names of two of the “alleged rapists” but would soon have all four.

An account called AnonNorth and others reacted to the news of the arrests by noting the role played by Anonymous.

In addition to the renewed police investigation, Ms. Parsons’s case influenced parts of a new Cyber-Safety Act that went into effect on Wednesday in Nova Scotia, according to a statement by the Nova Scotia justice minister, Ross Landry.

While criminal law in Canada is federal, the provincial legislation allows victims to apply for a protection order that could place restrictions on, or help identify, the cyberbully, and even sue the cyberbully, whose parents can be held liable for damages if the cyberbully is a minor, the statement said.

There was cautious reaction about where the arrests might lead in the case.

In media interviews, Ms. Parsons’s mother, Leah Parsons, said the police came to her home on Thursday morning after the arrests to let her know what had happened. She said her immediate reaction was “a little bit of a sense of relief that finally something has been done after all this time,” she was quoted as saying in a report by The Chronicle Herald. “I’m just hoping that charges will be laid.”

The newspaper quoted her as saying that she knows who was arrested: “The boys (have said) they want to give their side of the story, but they’ve never given their side of the story. So here’s their opportunity.”

She also spoke in an interview with CBC News, saying that the men arrested were “in the heart of it,” when asked whether they were on the periphery of what happened to her daughter or central to it.

The Chronicle Herald interviewed her father, Glen Canning, who called the news of the arrests “bittersweet.”

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.