HALIFAX — Police said Thursday that two Halifax teens face child pornography charges in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Halifax girl who was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt in April.
Her family says she was bullied for months after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was passed around her school.
One 18-year-old man faces two counts of distributing child pornography, while another 18-year-old man faces charges of making and distributing child pornography. Both accused are due in youth court next Thursday, police said Thursday evening.
“I can tell you that we hope that today’s arrests help the entire community to heal,” RCMP Chief-Supt. Roland Wells told a news conference.
“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.”
Police said they would not release the identities of the accused, as they were minors at the time of the alleged offences.
Earlier in the day, Rehtaeh’s parents said news that two people were arrested brought them some solace, though the girl’s father expressed disappointment that his daughter never saw justice served in her short life.
“She’s dead now. She’s gone,” Glen Canning said in an interview at his home.
“It’s sad and in a way it’s a bit of relief that there may be some sense of justice done in this case.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier this year met with Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, said he hoped that the girl’s family would be given a degree of comfort with the progress in the case.
“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,” Harper said in Saint John, N.B., where he was at the Irving Oil refinery.
“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.”
Rehtaeh’s family has said the girl felt helpless after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted in November 2011 was passed around her school.
The RCMP said earlier this year that they looked into the allegations of sexual assault and an inappropriate photo but after consulting with the province’s Public Prosecution Service, they concluded there weren’t enough grounds to lay charges.
A week after Rehtaeh’s death, police reopened their investigation, saying they received new information from someone who was willing to work with investigators.
“I feel that the investigation wasn’t handled properly from the beginning and I’ve never seen the file, so I don’t really know why or how that happened,” Leah Parsons said earlier Thursday. “I’m just glad that it was reopened.”
Canning said he believes Rehtaeh could have been helped had the arrests happened sooner.
“She had no sense of justice right up until the day she died,” he said. “I do believe if this case was taken seriously, she would have felt value as a human being.”
The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service said Thursday evening that Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General was asked to get involved in the case at the time it was reopened.
Spokeswoman Chris Hansen said because Nova Scotia’s prosecution service provided advice to police during the initial investigation, it asked Ontario Crown attorneys to take over to avoid any “real or perceived” conflict. Hansen said the Ontario ministry would now assume the prosecution of the two teens charged.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the ministry, said in an email that it has been providing advice to police during their investigation, but would not comment further.
Rehtaeh’s death sparked national outrage and prompted the Nova Scotia government to launch reviews of the original police investigation into the case and the school board’s handling of the matter. The review of the original investigation is ongoing.
An independent review released in June concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job, but it was hindered by the fact that Rehtaeh was often absent from class. The report also said the Parsons family faced challenges when they turned to Nova Scotia’s mental health system for help.
The charges come a day after a new law took effect in the province that allows people to sue if they or their children are being cyberbullied. Victims can also seek a protection order that could place restrictions on or help identify the cyberbully.
Justice Minister Ross Landry introduced the legislation weeks after Rehtaeh’s death.