HALIFAX — When a judge placed a publication ban on Rehtaeh Parsons’ identity, Glen Canning began wearing a T-shirt to court bearing his daughter’s name in a campaign that ended Wednesday as reporting restrictions in the child pornography case were eased.
For Canning, a directive from Nova Scotia’s attorney general allowing Parsons’ name to be reported was a relief.
“It almost feels like I got her name back,” Canning said in an interview. “We can attach her name again to this conversation and that’s just fantastic.”
Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab says breaches of the ban by the media or in other forums will not be prosecuted, unless the girl’s name is used in a derogatory way.
A judge put the mandatory ban on Parsons’ identity in May in the case of two young men who were charged with child pornography offences, even though he said his decision “serves no purpose” because both of the girls’ parents wanted her identity public and her case had been widely reported.
Last month, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald identified Parsons as the victim in the case when one of the young men pleaded guilty in youth court. Others published her name on social media sites.
He will be sentenced in January for distributing a sexually graphic image of the teenaged girl, who died last year following a suicide attempt.
The other young man was given a conditional discharge for making child pornography. Neither of them can be identified because they were youths at the time of the offence.
Canning said he believes the decision by the Chronicle-Herald and at least two other media outlets to publish his daughter’s name tipped the balance.
“I guess in the end, it made the ban look a little bit ridiculous,” he added.
“It’s like a dark cloud was just lifted and here it is in black and white. It’s kind of what we wanted, the way the minister released this and worded it was perfect.”
Canning said the ban shut down debate on the issues surrounding the case and the confusion even led some high schools to cancel his appearances to talk about cyberbullying.
“It was such a grey area that Rehtaeh’s friends were afraid to say her name on Facebook,” he said.
Canning said the decision would also help free up the work of an organization he started last month with Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons. The Rehtaeh Parsons Society aims to address the prevalence of cyberbullying, youth sexual violence and the distribution of images among young people through educational and support initiatives.
In his decision in May, Judge Jamie Campbell said the Criminal Code required him to implement the ban but he also said the Crown could decide not to prosecute if it was broken. That route wasn’t taken until Diab’s directive was issued Wednesday.
Diab said she decided the directive was necessary after consulting a range of legal experts, academics, teens and parents, including Glen Canning and Leah Parsons.
“It has become very clear to me over the last number of weeks that there is so much confusion and so much ambiguity and so much inconsistency on the use of Rehtaeh Parsons name in the public that clarity needed to occur,” she said.
“The publication ban was never intended to hinder important discussions that need to happen in our society.”
Police have investigated a number of complaints since the ban was imposed and have not laid any charges.
The director of public prosecutions said the directive clarifies the approach his office should take as he described the situation as unusual, given the judge’s comments about the ban and calls from the girl’s parents for it to be lifted.
Martin Herschorn said when deciding whether to prosecute alleged breaches of the ban, those factors were used in deciding what course to take.
“Those were unique public interest factors that guided the position of the Crown then and this directive provides additional clarity,” he said in an interview.
Halifax Regional Police said they will review current and future complaints in light of the directive from the minister. Those cases will be closed unless it is determined in consultation with the public prosecution service that Parsons’ name has been used in a derogatory way.