Outraged Canadians are demanding police action after an alleged gang r*pe 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 molestation. 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 okay and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” Leah 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 year-long 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 s*x 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 had earlier in the week asked senior government officials to offer options for reviewing the case.
The Halifax Regional School Board has also been asked to scrutinise its handling of the case.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter chose a government minister on Thursday to coordinate responses from the Nova Scotia departments of justice, education, community services and health.
Dexter had in the face of public outrage urged Nova Scotians “not to take matters into their own hands,” stating on 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.
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 on Thursday for allegedly s*xually 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 with the Quebecor Media news agency describing 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.”