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Outrage in Canada after teen suicide, alleged gang rape

April 12, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • A woman holds a photo of Rehtaeh Parsons as several hundred people attend a community vigil to remember the Canadian teen in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A woman holds a photo of Rehtaeh Parsons as several hundred people attend… (Andrew Vaughan / Canadian…)

Outraged Canadians are demanding police action after an alleged gang rape and suicide in Nova Scotia, a tragedy that has drawn parallels to recent assault cases in Ohio and California.

Seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons hanged herself last week after enduring more than a year of bullying in the aftermath of an alleged rape. In an impassioned message posted on Facebook, her mother, Leah Parsons, wrote that four boys assaulted Rehtaeh in November 2011 and spread a photo of the act online, branding the teen a “slut” and launching an avalanche of harassment from her classmates.

“Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought raping a 15 yr old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” Leah Parsons wrote. Bullying and harassment were also to blame, she said, and “lastly, the justice system failed her.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police decided not to press charges against the boys after a yearlong investigation. In the wake of her suicide, public outcry has prodded the Nova Scotia justice minister, who at first rejected the idea, to revisit how the investigation was conducted.

Hackers identifying themselves with the cyberactivist collective Anonymous jumped into the fray this week, warning they had identified two of the alleged rapists and claiming to have found "several public statements" by one of the boys saying he had sex with Rehtaeh while she was throwing up.

“Follow your own procedures and protect the innocent. We do not seek vigilante justice,” they wrote in an online statement Friday. "If those who we believe are guilty are exonerated in a court of law, Anonymous will disappear from Nova Scotia."

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry asked senior government officials earlier this week to offer options for reviewing the case. The review is still in its preliminary stages, Justice Department media relations advisor Megan Tonet wrote in an email Friday to The Times.

The Halifax Regional School Board has also been asked to scrutinize its handling of the case. Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter chose a government minister Thursday to coordinate responses from the Nova Scotia departments of justice, education, community services and health.

In the face of public outrage, Dexter urged Nova Scotians “not to take matters into their own hands,” stating Thursday that “justice is to be done in the justice system.”

"I will do everything in my power to create a community that is better equipped to prevent these situations, rather than a community that struggles to find a way to deal with them," Dexter said.

Columnists have dubbed the case the “Steubenville” of Canada, invoking the rape of an Ohio teen whose abuse was captured on photos spread online. The fate of the Nova Scotia teen also echoes that of Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old who hanged herself in the Northern California town of Saratoga last year. Three teenage boys were arrested Thursday for allegedly sexually assaulting Audrie; students shared photos of the attack, an attorney for her family told the San Jose Mercury News.

The Saratoga arrests quickly made headlines in Canadian media; the Quebecor Media news agency described the alleged crime as "eerily reminiscent" of the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

"In the states the creeps are immediately arrested," one commenter wrote on the Toronto Sun website. "Here in Canada the authorities throw up their hands and say nothing can be done."

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