The RCMP is reopening the investigation into the death of a Nova Scotia teen based on new information they say did not come from hacker group Anonymous.
“In light of new and credible information that has recently been brought forward to police, HRM Partners in Policing are reopening the investigation involving Rehtaeh Parsons,” the statement said.
“This information did not come from an on-line source. The person providing the information is willing to verify who they are, the reason they’re providing it and is willing to work with police as part of the investigation,” it continued.
Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, committed suicide after enduring what her family says was months of bullying after an alleged rape. Photos of the incident were allegedly distributed online, and she was taunted because of it, her mother said.
Anonymous on Friday released what it said was a list of "facts" in relation to the case.
The group forwarded the information to the RCMP, as well as a screen grab of someone allegedly confessing to sexually assaulting the teen.
It is not known whether the screen grab is authentic.
While Anonymous claims they won’t publicly release the identities of suspects out of respect for the victim’s family, they have urged the RCMP to act.
"We urge the RCMP to act like guardians,” the group said in a release, and “set the proper example for the young men of Nova Scotia and send a clear message: This behavior will not be tolerated in our communities.”
It isn't clear how Anonymous obtained the information released Friday, or whether it has been independently verified.
Meanwhile, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson warned against “vigilante justice” as anger about the case swells.
"We're very concerned about vigilante response to the case in Halifax. That's not the way to get to the bottom of these things," Paulson told reporters Friday.
"I think it's serious in this case because it seems to be mounting in its momentum."
Paulson added that the RCMP is open to working with Anonymous but expressed doubt that would happen, as the groups’ members would have to remove their masks.
According to the RCMP, misinformation is circulating on both traditional and social media in relation to the case and that it is not always accurate or based on factual evidence.
Questions have arisen about why the group would involve itself in the case. Anonymous attempted to answer the question in its statement Friday.
"Is it necessary for Anonymous to be involved in this case? Yes. For a moment let's set aside the theatrics, the masks and the labels. We are group of concerned citizens that have recognized an injustice in the system," the statement said.
"We have taken it upon ourselves to point out that injustice to the public and we are asking the police to correct their incompetent handling of this case."
Jon Blanchard, a Halifax-based IT professional who provides tech support for the group, called it “extremely exciting” that “the RCMP is at least listening.”
Speaking to CTV News, Blanchard described Anonymous as “a group of completely independent people and teams who see something that outrages them and collectively apply their talents to what is called an operation, in this case, justice for Rehtaeh."
He added that most of the group’s members are not in North America.
“They’re not onshore, they’re not in Canada,” he said.
Much of the anger over the case has been directed at Cole Harbour District High School. Rehtaeh left the school days after the photo of the alleged crime was circulated, and now dozens of death threats have been directed toward staff and students.
“People, without knowing all the facts, are suggesting that Cole Harbour turned a blind eye to bullying and cyberbullying that was going on in their own school and the way people are reacting is by bullying,” says Doug Hadley, spokesman for the Halifax Regional School Board.
“We need to work together as a group,” says Kathleen Richard, anti-bullying co-ordinator for the province.” It’s a collaboration. Bullying together is a very complex relationship issue.”
Katie Aven, a chaplin and spiritual co-ordinator at the IWK Health Centre, helped teens like Rehtaeh until her job was cut two years ago.
“The support is not there for her, not the emotional support, the spiritual support, the counseling support that should be there,” says Aven.
Father John Morrell, minister at St. Mark’s Anglican Church, is set to deliver the eulogy at Rehtaeh’s funeral tomorrow. He has never conducted a service for someone so young, or for someone who took their own life.
“Human life that we knew, concrete, physically could talk to, could see, is gone,” he says. “But that human spirit is now in the hands of God.”
Nova Scotia government launches public awareness campaign
As family and friends of Rehtaeh prepare to lay her to rest, the province is launching a public awareness campaign promoting support and resources for people being bullied.
A video message from Premier Darrell Dexter was posted on the Nova Scotia government webpage today and television ads will follow tomorrow as part of a public awareness campaign directing those in need where to go for help.
“It is necessary for us to ensure that we are addressing the question of resources and how you get access to them very directly,” says Dexter.
The campaign follows Thursday’s appointment of one of the premier’s cabinet ministers to co-ordinate the government’s response to Rehtaeh’s death, and more meetings are in the works.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry says he has had a conversation with his federal counterpart and they are working out the details of a meeting he hopes will take place the week after next.
“I don’t want to give people a false belief that we can legislate our way out of this,” says Landry.
But he also says he wants to have a discussion on what legislative changes would be beneficial, and that one of the key areas of concern is the distribution of images.
“Someone taking a picture of someone else and how that’s controlled and who has access to use that and then you have to balance that in a free society for information to be exchanged and not controlled by government,” says Landry.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also addressed Parsons' tragic death at an event in Calgary, saying he and his wife, Laureen, were shocked.
"I can just tell you Laureen and I, as parents of a teenage daughter, we're just sickened seeing a story like this," he said.
"I think we've got to stop just using the term bullying to describe some of these things. Bullying to me has a connotation of kind of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity.
"It is youth criminal activity. It is violent criminal activity. It is sexual criminal activity and it is often Internet criminal activity."
Opposition leaders in Nova Scotia say they aren’t surprised all levels of government are getting involved.
“What I’m looking for is for them to do the right thing and actually do something, instead of just talking,” says Nova Scotia Liberal MLA Kelly Regan.
“To make sure young people have a complete plan, to make sure young people get all the help that they need, and that the Criminal Code and the provincial statutes reflect these crimes for what they are,” says Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.
The television and online ads will run for about four weeks.
With files from CTVNews.ca, CTV Atlantic's Kelland Sundahl, CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster