Rehtaeh Parsons' father urges PM to act on cyberbullying
Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013 11:56AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2013 6:31PM EDT
Reaching out to the prime minister as a parent, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons described how helpless he felt to save his bullied daughter, who was taken off life support more than two weeks ago after she tried to hang herself at home.
Glen Canning emerged from the meeting on Parliament Hill Tuesday to share what action Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson pledged to take in the wake of his daughter’s death.
Canning, who spoke to Harper along with the teen’s mother and step-parents, said he outlined what changes he would like to see to the criminal code to prevent other families from enduring similar pain.
“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.”
Canning added: “I know that they care.”
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.
Harper met with Canning, his wife, and Rehtaeh’s mother Leah Parsons and her partner Tuesday afternoon.
The family of the Nova Scotia teen alleges she was raped by four boys at a party in November 2011, and subsequently bullied by her peers when a sexually explicit photo of the attack circulated around her high school.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter met separately with the prime minister.
Parsons’ death caused an outpouring of anger and grief throughout the country, with many calling for the criminalization of the distribution of explicit images without consent.
Dexter said Tuesday evening that he and Harper discussed potential changes to the criminal code.
In Nova Scotia, the province’s governing New Democratic Party 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.”
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.”
Parsons’ death has drawn comparisons to the case of 15-year-old British Columbia teen Amanda Todd.
Todd took her own life in October 2012 after enduring years of online bullying that stemmed from a topless photo that being circulated online.
The deaths have spurred the creation of a new website -- NeedHelpNow.ca -- aimed at helping teens in the aftermath of ‘sexting’ or cyberbullying.
Harper’s wife, Laureen Harper, has thrown her support behind the new site, which launched Sunday.
"This website prepares you, teaches you things you never even knew or thought of because, remember when we were teenagers, none of this was a concern to us or our parents," Harper, told CTV's Canada AM Monday. "You might end up being the safe adult that needs to know the answers.”