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Nova Scotia justice minister revisits review of Rehtaeh Parsons case
Two departments in the Nova Scotia government are trying to sort out what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons, and how her situation could have been handled differently.
Education Minister Ramona Jennex has asked the Halifax Regional School Board to review its actions, while Justice Minister Ross Landry is asking government officials to present options to review the case.
“I’ve listened to Nova Scotians…I’ve received many comments from across the country and it deeply affected people,” Landry told CTV News.
“So from a justice perspective, as the minister responsible, it’s very important that I’m listening to people and that I respond to their concerns.
Rehtaeh's mother, Leah Parsons, told CTV News that her 17-year-old daughter committed suicide about 18 months after an alleged sexual assault.
She said Rehtaeh, who was 15 at the time, went to a friend's home in Cole Harbour in November 2011 and that she was raped by four boys.
She said someone took a photo of the incident and that it spread like wildfire through Rehtaeh’s high school and through the community of Cole Harbour.
Parsons said her daughter was bullied, shunned and humiliated by her friends and classmates after the incident and she eventually switched schools.
Rehtaeh even checked herself into a hospital for six weeks to help her cope with her depression and suicidal thoughts.
Things slowly improved and she made new friends, but her past followed her like a dark shadow.
Parsons said her daughter hanged herself in the bathroom on Thursday. She was taken off life support on Sunday.
“I didn’t even knock on the door. I just picked it open and could feel the weight of her body on the door. I didn’t think anything. I just opened the door and said ‘Rehtaeh.’ Then I had to cut her down. She was hung. She was hanging.”
Police investigated the sexual assault claim, but no charges were laid in the case.
“They completed their investigation and, in consultation with the Crown, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges,” said Halifax RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae.
“I think kids have to be accountable for their actions,” said Parsons. “Rehtaeh used to say they’d talk about bullying at school, but they don’t care.”
Early Tuesday, Landry said he would not order a review of the investigation because there is nothing to indicate that police did not follow proper procedures.
But late Tuesday, he issued a statement saying he has asked senior government officials to present options, as soon as possible, to review the case.
He said he has been reviewing details of the case and consulting with officials throughout the day, and expects options within the next few days.
“We need questions answered and we need to have more dialogue, and we need to look at our young people and how we can better prepare them to show respect and privacy for other individuals,” he said.
“It’s one thing to say I have confidence in the justice system. The public needs to have confidence in the justice system, and if that gets shaken, then it’s my responsibility to react, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Landry also told CTV News he “had a very personal conversation” with Rehtaeh’s mother Wednesday morning.
“Something that really resonated in the discussion was the distribution of images, or information getting out in the cyberworld,” said Landry.
“I think we need to look at how our laws are structured in regards to the distribution of images.”
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter also weighed in on the case today, saying he supports a review.
“We need to have a broad-based comprehensive review that looks at the events that took place in this case and anything else we’ve learned from an investigation into what happened,” said Dexter.
At this point, it isn’t clear what the review will look like, or whether an independent review will look at how police handled the situation. Government says that decision will be made after speaking with the various departments involved in the case.
Jennex is also asking the Halifax Regional School Board to review their response to the case.
“If we find any gaps, that we close them,” said Jennex. “We can’t have this happen again, and if there are problems within our system, we need to identify what they are so we can fix them.”
Today, opposition leaders said there are many questions that need to be answered.
“What is it that caused public prosecution, and quite frankly, law enforcement agency not to continue to proceed?” asked Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil. “What do they know that we don’t know? Where was the breakdown in supports for this family and for this young woman?”
“We want to make sure that we call on government to put real strength into our laws around bullying and cyberbullying, including that schools have to take action, that all responsible adults need to take action, when they see incidences of bullying and cyberbullying,” said Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.
Rehtaeh’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
Donations in Rehtaeh’s memory can be made to the East Coast German Shepherd Rescue, Metro SPCA, and the Laing House – a Halifax-based peer support organization for youth with mental illness.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kelland Sundahl and Jacqueline Foster