The father of Rehtaeh Parsons says he had a “heartfelt” meeting today with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Glen Canning emerged from the meeting on Parliament Hill Tuesday to share what action Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson pledged to take in the wake of his daughter’s death.
“The meeting... was heartfelt,” Canning said. “It was as parents we were talking. It was frustrating for us to go through something like this, to feel so defenceless, to do anything at all to help our daughter.”
Harper met with Canning, his wife, and Rehtaeh’s mother Leah Parsons and her partner Tuesday afternoon to discuss potential changes to laws regarding the distribution of sexually explicit photos without consent.
When asked what kind of law he would like to see enacted, Canning said: “I’m looking for someone who posts a picture of someone with the intention of completely destroying their life to be held accountable for doing that, and right now they just weren’t. And that’s frustrating, that’s very frustrating.”
The meeting comes about two weeks after the 17-year-old died after attempting to hang herself.
Rehtaeh’s family alleges she was raped by four boys in November 2011, and subsequently bullied by her peers when a sexually explicit photo of the alleged attack circulated around her high school in Cole Harbour, N.S.
“It was frustrating for us to go through something like this and feel so defenceless…so we conveyed that message,” said Canning. “It was sad that it had to happen like this, but it’s good to see that there is going to be something the government can do.”
Canning said Rehtaeh’s family did everything they could to help her but they didn’t have the right tools.
“We did everything we could but we were drowning. We felt helpless,” said Canning. “For the way the laws are set up in Canada right now, there was absolutely nothing we could do to help our daughter but stand there and watch her die.”
Before Canning spoke, Nicholson said the federal government is committed to drafting a victims’ bill of rights, what he called a document “that victims can look to, to ensure that their rights are being protected and that they know what remedies, what is available to them.”
Earlier, Nicholson said the victims’ rights bill is still months away. The Conservative government announced in February that legislation to entrench victim rights in law would be introduced this year.
Nicholson said he has called a meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss cyberbullying.
He said he has also asked that a review that has been underway since last fall into potential gaps in the criminal code with respect to cyberbullying be expedited.
“Rehtaeh deserves no less,” Nicholson told reporters.
Rehtaeh’s death has caused an outpouring of anger and grief across the country, with many calling for the criminalization of the distribution of explicit images without consent.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter also met with Harper on Tuesday. Dexter said Tuesday evening that he and the prime minister discussed potential changes to the Criminal Code.
The Nova Scotia government has proposed new legislation that would make the circulation of “intimate” images without consent a crime.
However, Dexter said he believes a solution lies in broader societal change that would make the behaviour that led to Rehtaeh Parsons’ death socially unacceptable.
“What we need to do is we need to create an atmosphere where the kind of behaviour that you saw in this case and in many others simply attracts a level of social disapproval that essentially stops it from becoming what is an all-too-usual occurrence,” Dexter told CTV’s Power Play, adding that such incidents occur “much more than people would expect.”
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry has also weighed in on the issue. Last week he said the Criminal Code should be rewritten to make the sharing of sexual images without consent a crime.
Landry said he is making good on a promise he made to Rehtaeh’s mother during a private conversation.
“That we would address the issue of imaging and that was the big concern about what happened a week ago,” he said.
Landry said he wants the federal government to criminalize emailing, texting, or posting intimate images for a malicious or sexual purpose – an issue he says is hampered by outdated laws.
He is scheduled to meet with Nicholson in Ottawa on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
Nova Scotia Tories reintroduce Cyberbullying Intervention Act
Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives have reintroduced their Cyberbullying Intervention Act.
Leader Jamie Baillie says it’s the same bill he introduced last year, with some improvements to make it stronger.
The bill defines cyberbullying in law, making it an offence.
“For example, to give judges the power to be able to actually stop Internet accounts when they’re being used as weapons against our children,” says Baillie. “I think the time has come to shut those accounts down when they’re used in such a malicious way. That is in the power of the province to do.”
Baillie says he has also written to the prime minister about the importance of changes to the Criminal Code.
With files from CTVNews.ca and CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster