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Rehtaeh Parsons' parents speak out against Postmedia chain's shameful column

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Yesterday, April 26, Postmedia writer Christie Blatchford published a column across the media chain hitting back at the campaign against sexual violence in Nova Scotia that has been sparked by the recent suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons. The young woman's father, Glen Canning, has published a statement replying to the columnist. The text of his statement is below.

Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, has also responded to the column, on a Facebook page, 'Angel Rehtaeh,' dedicated to her daughter. Her response to the columnist reads, in part, “This article clearly highlights the “slut shaming” going on in our country and the abuse that Rehtaeh felt over and over for the past 18 months. If a grown woman can write such a biased, degrading, harassing article, think of how a 15 yr old was able to deal with the torment of those young boys. I only pray that you do not have any daughters or granddaughters.”

Postmedia's outlets are publishing articles today that report on Glen Canning's statement. The National Post version also includes information on Leah Parsons' response.

I wrote a letter today to the National Post and Vancouver Sun, text below. In it, I highlight issues of failed, institutional reaction to the original assault against Rehtaeh Parsons in 2011. I wrote about this in my original article on the subject. 

Halifax writer and an editor of The Coast weekly, Tim Bousquet, has just penned a lengthy, informed commentary on Rehtaeh Parsons' case entitled, 'The shame of slut-shaming.' The large number of comments accompanying his article are indicative of the intensity of the public debate taking place in Nova Scotia over the need to combat sexual violence. This is a positive outcome to an otherwise tragic series of events.

Addressing Christie Blatchford’s article

By Glen Canning, published on Scrib.com, April 26, 2013

This morning I woke up and read an article in the National Post about Rehtaeh’s case. I’m not upset or mad. A little disappointed maybe. The writer, Christie Blatchford, makes a few statements I would like to address.

“What they had was a complainant whose evidence was all over the map, independent evidence that supported the notion that any sex was consensual, and no evidence that Rehtaeh was so drunk that she couldn’t consent: The case was a mess.” ~ Christie Blatchford

“What they had was a complainant whose evidence was all over the map…”

Rehtaeh was intoxicated at the time and she has always stated she couldn’t remember much of what happened. What she did say was all over the map and that is exactly what one should expect it to be from a 15 year old girl who remembers very little but is being swamped at school and online with slut stories about what took place.

“…independent evidence that supported the notion that any sex was consensual, and no evidence that Rehtaeh was so drunk that she couldn’t consent.”

The two boys involved in taking and posing for the photograph stated Rehtaeh was throwing up when they had sex with her. That is not called consensual sex. That is called rape. They also stated they had to get her dressed when they were finished. She was passed out. That is the story they told to anyone at Rehtaeh’s school who would listen. That is their account of what happened. There are numerous people who heard that and shared that. No evidence she was so drunk that she couldn’t consent? How drunk does someone have to be? Drunk enough to get sick or drunk enough to not remember?

The photo is of a male naked from the waist down, giving a thumbs-up sign, pressing into the bare behind of another person who is leaning out a window. What the picture doesn’t reveal, however, is a recognizable face, if there even was a sexual assault going on, or if the second person was a female.”

What did the person in the photograph say? That it was him, that the female was Rehtaeh, that she was vomiting, and that he was having sex with her. He repeated that story many times to many people all while texting that photo to God knows who. Hard to believe that could be presented to the Crown and dismissed but there you go.

“But there are two sides, even to this wrenching tale.”

With that I agree. There are two sides. Rehtaeh’s side, that she was intoxicated, throwing up, and raped; and the boys' side, that she was intoxicated, throwing up, and she wanted to have sex. So in the end all we’re left with is the Criminal Code of Canada that states pretty clearly that what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons is called rape. Even if there was consensual sex before Rehtaeh passed out and got sick once she was in that state consent is no longer there. That’s not called regret, it’s called the law.

So why weren’t they charged? I honestly have no idea. Reading the statistics it’s not surprising but I have no idea in this case. The boys who raped Rehtaeh bragged about it. They photographed it. There’s more evidence in Rehtaeh’s case then there was in the Steubenville case.

“Proving the modern maxim that she who gets to social media first may set the script in stone, the post ignited a firestorm.”

That is exactly what happened to Rehtaeh. The slut story spread around her school like a firestorm via social media while she desperately tried to deal with it. Her efforts weren’t perfect but she did her best. Sorry it wasn’t the 100% perfect case that rape victims need in this country in order to get justice but she tried. And for that I am very proud of her.

I told Rehtaeh all the time that justice is a long shot and even than people will think she either asked for it, or she deserved it. I just wanted her to be prepared. She just wanted to be believed.

She mentioned last year a friend of hers was raped under similar circumstances by one of the same boys. I jumped at that because it would help support her case but Rehtaeh’s friend wasn’t interested in coming forward or talking to the police. She said she watched what had happened to our daughter and there was no way she was going to put herself through that. Who can blame her? Isn’t that why most rape victims say nothing? Because it’s never about the rapist, it’s always about the victim.

“The girlfriend of Rehtaeh’s who was at the party told police Rehtaeh was being flirtatious, …”

It’s always about the victim.

Letter to the Vancouver Sun

Vancouver BC
April 26, 2013

Christie Blatchford’s claim that an inebriated 15-year old Rehtaeh Parsons could have engaged in consensual sex on the night of the assault she suffered in 2011 is outrageous.

There are so many important parts of this story that Blatchford ignores. The disappointing, to say the least, conduct of education officials throughout the Parsons case. Why the alleged assailants would circle their wagons so firmly and then lash out, if the assault in question never occurred. And the law and order hue and cry of the prime minister of Canada and Nova Scotia government that effectively backs the 2012 decision of police and judicial investigators to not lay charges and perpetuates a myth that existing law is inadequate to protect the victims of sexual assault.

The writer is very concerned that the case of Rehtaeh Parsons has been falsely presented. But she appears entirely unconcerned about the broader societal issues of sexual assault, including the urgency of changes in our governing and judicial institutions such that victims or potential victims are better protected.

Roger Annis

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