Two teens charged in Rehtaeh Parsons case
Published Thursday, August 8, 2013 8:32AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 8, 2013 11:09PM EDT
Two 18-year-old males are facing child pornography charges in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who hanged herself after months of cyberbullying linked to an alleged sexual assault.
The suspects were arrested in their Halifax homes Thursday morning.
At an evening news conference, Halifax Police and the RCMP announced that one of them has been charged with two counts of distributing child pornography.
The other 18-year-old was charged with making and distributing child pornography. Both have scheduled appearances in youth court next Thursday.
Their names were not released because they were minors at the time of the alleged offences.
There was insufficient evidence to support charges of sexual assault, police said.
Parsons was taken off life-support in April after she hanged herself in her Halifax home. She was 17 years old.
Her family says she suffered months of cyberbullying after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted began circulating in her school.
Parsons’ mother, Leah, said she’s happy that charges have been laid.
“We’ve been waiting for a very long time for something to be done with this situation and this is the first time anything has been done,” she told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview Thursday evening.
“I just wish there would have been more charges laid.”
Earlier Thursday, Parsons’ father Glen Canning said he felt “divided” when police told him about the arrests.
“At one point I thought I was going to cry and at the other point I was just almost in shock,” he told CTV News in an interview at his home.
“We have waited such a long time for something to come out of this. I was just emotionally divided.”
Canning said the arrests won’t bring him closure, but they gave him a sense of relief because of the people who doubted Rehtaeh’s story.
“It was a bittersweet kind of moment because Rehtaeh is dead,” he said. “She’s never going to know justice.”
RCMP Chief-Supt. Roland Wells said police hope the arrests will help the community heal.
"A young girl has died in what is a tragic set of circumstances. We all need to reflect on how we as a community can come together in Rehtaeh's memory and see what we can do to work together to support our youth," he told the news conference Thursday.
Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said he doesn’t expect the child pornography charges to bring Parsons’ family “all the answers they seek.”
He acknowledged that some people may feel that other charges are warranted, but said police “cannot act on innuendo or speculation.”
"There has been much misinformation and misunderstanding in the public realm about this matter," Blais said.
"What some people may believe occurred and what can be substantiated in a police investigation through verified evidence and what can finally be proved in court are often very different things.”
The RCMP said earlier this year that they looked into the sexual assault allegations and a photo that was being circulated, but concluded there weren't enough grounds to lay charges.
A week after Rehtaeh's death, police reopened their investigation, saying they received new and credible information.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to Thursday’s arrests, saying he's happy to see progress made on the high-profile case.
"I just want to say how pleased we are that progress is being made. I hope it provides some measure of comfort to family members," he said Thursday in Saint John, N.B. "This is a terrible tragedy that had touched not only the families but many other Canadians who have become familiar with what has transpired and the kind of risk this presents to all of our children"
Parsons’ story sparked a national conversation over the dangers of cyberbullying, which eventually led to provincial legislation designed to curb online bullying.
The Cyber-Safety Act came into effect in Nova Scotia on Wednesday.
Under the new laws, Nova Scotia residents can sue or seek a protection order from the courts if they or their child are being bullied online.
A lawsuit can also be launched, with parents being held responsible for damages if the perpetrator is a child.
Leah Parsons said she is encouraged by the new legislation, but wonders if police have the technology to enforce it.
Under the act, school officials must investigate each case of alleged bullying that's reported to them – even those which occur off school property.
It was determined in an independent review that the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job in Rehtaeh's case, but was limited because the teen was often absent from class.
With files from The Canadian Press