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An independent review into the conduct of police and the Nova Scotia prosecution service following the suicide death of then-17 year old Rehtaeh Parsons in April 2013 is harshly critical of both agencies. The review was released in Halifax on October 8.

Rehtaeh Parsons was the victim of a sexual assault in November 2011 and was then doubly victimized by tormenting by her peers and the failure of school, social service and police and judicial officials to protect her, including their failure to promptly investigate the two young men who assaulted her.

This writer has reported this story extensively on “A Socialist In Canada.” My reporting focused on how the federal government and the Nova Scotia government sought to divert attention away from the institutional failures to protect Rehtaeh Parsons by talking up and introducing new laws against “cyberbullying.” As the independent review released yesterday makes clear, existing laws were more than adequate to protect young Rehtaeh and to prosecute her attackers. What was lacking, and what failed all along the line, was the political and social will by police, judicial and education officials to do so.

The new “cyberbullying” laws adopted by the Canadian and Nova Scotia governments in response to the Rehtaeh Parsons case seriously infringe upon civil rights. The Nova Scotia law is being challenged in court. The lead counsel in that case calls the law a “dumpster fire that can only be extinguished by the charter [Canada’s federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms].”

For background on the new federal law (approved in March 2015), see, Ottawa’s proposed law on “cyberbullying” attacks civil rights by this author, Nov 22, 2013.

Eventually, the two young attackers were convicted, but not for assault or for their threats and harassment following the original crime. They were convicted of  “child pornography” laws (for distributing the photos they took of their assault).

Two police agencies were involved in the failure to protect Rehtaeh Parsons — the Halifax police and the federal RCMP. The RCMP is the contracted municipal police force in Cole Harbour, where the assault took place and subsequent threats and bullying originated.

A CBC news story describes the findings of the independent review into the death of Rehtaeh Parsons.

Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons, issued a statement in response to the review. It is published on the website of the Rehtaeh Parsons Memorial Society and enclosed below. The Society and its website are devoted to aiding young women who are victims of sexual and other forms of assault.

A Canada-wide story

Sadly, the story of Rehtaeh Parsons’ tragic death is a familiar one in Canada.

The province of British Columbia is presently shaken by news of the failure of its child welfare ministry and government to protect teenagers in foster care. This follows the death last month of Alex Gervais, an 18 year old youth who, contrary to ministry of social service regulations and to the story peddled by officials in the aftermath of his death, was being housed in a hotel by himself.

There was a national outcry in Canada over placing foster children in hotels after the murder of Tina Fontaine, 15, in Winnipeg in 2014. She disappeared from the Winnipeg hotel where she was lodged by Manitoba’s child welfare system.

Canada was earlier shaken by the investigation of the grim treatment during a five year-plus span of teenager Ashley Smith by authorities in several provinces, beginning in New Brunswick, and by the federal prison system.

The psychologically troubled girl was institutionalized at the age of 14 for a string a petty transgressions, including throwing crabapples at a postman. During the years that followed, she was transferred randomly to many institutions in five different provinces. She was subjected to pepper spraying, straightjacketing, solitary confinement and other forms of torture. She killed herself in an Ontario lock-up in 2007 at the age of 19 as authorities looked on.

Many details of Ashley Smith’s story came to shocking light in a documentary broadcast in 2010 by CBC Television’s The Fifth Estate. It was titled Out of Control. The documentary showed her being tasered at a young age in a New Brunswick institution and it shows her final minutes captured on prison film in Ontario before killing herself.

In 2012, during the Ontario government inquest into her death, another shocking video came to light, this one showing police transferring Ms Smith by airplane from a prison in Saskatchewan in April 2007. Police placed her in a straightjacket, covered her head with a hood and sealed her mouth with duct tape.

The most grim cases of sexual and other assault in Canada are those of the estimated more than 1000 missing and murdered women in Canada, most of whom are Aboriginal. Their cases span several decades. The federal Conservative Party has refused all along to convene a commission of inquiry into the disappearances. All of the opposition parties in Parliament have committed themselves to convening an inquiry.

Canada is a failed state for many of its young people, particularly those who are Aboriginal. Suicide rates of young Aboriginals in northern Canada are multiple times higher that those of their non-Aboriginal counterparts in southern Canada. None of the main parties in the present federal election have any big ideas to fix this social emergency.

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Published comment by Leah Parsons, mother of Rehtaeh Parsons, on the independent review of police conduct over the suicide death of Rehtaeh Parsons in April 2013

Published on the website of the Rehtaeh Parsons Society, Oct, 9, 2015

Yes, I was pleased with the results of the review in terms of the mistakes made not being covered up so far in the report that they can’t be found. Yes, I was relieved that FINALLY what we knew was wrong all along was written out in black and white. The reasons for no sexual assault charges… I will never agree with. But I’m with heavy heart because Rehtaeh was brave enough to come forward. She knew 100 per cent what happened to her was wrong. How she was treated by police, schools and hospital is not how anyone should be treated, let alone a child. “Human Error”… once yes… but so many human errors is unacceptable. These “human errors” were pointed out to those in power many times in conversations. “What if they listened?”

I’m proud of Rehtaeh and will continue to speak for others so that families/children do not have to live the trauma that is now coming up to four years. Because what many do not realize is that this trauma is not over. How could it be? As a family we have to be brave and continue on with this pain every single day. It all began Nov 12, 2011 when I wish I said no to a “sleep over,” but I realize I cannot live in “what ifs” but for today. After reading this thorough review and re-living so much pain, I can’t help to think “what if the police did what was needed at the time?” when Rehtaeh was struggling to survive. What if I was not considered “the demanding mother” asking for clarification.

I will also say “what if” it was not my child… how many more children would it take? Change has come… these recommendation will go into effect and some already have. The governments have taken this serious on many levels. Let’s continue to protect our children by never being silent when we know it is wrong to do so.

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Roger Annis

Roger Annis

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) and its Vancouver affiliate, Haiti Solidarity BC. He has visited Haiti in August 2007 and June 2011. He is a frequent writer and...