Justice for Rehtaeh Parsons? Arrests announced in cyberbulling investigation

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Justice for Rehtaeh Parsons? Arrests announced in cyberbulling investigation

After nearly two years of suffering and frustration, months of mourning and sweeping changes to the way Canada views cyberbullying, Halifax RCMP say they have made arrests in the death of Rehtaeh Parsons — a 17-year-old who took her own life after being teased and ostracized by her classmates and online.

Parsons, 17, died following a suicide attempt in April, which her family says came after a photo was released of her being sexually assaulted at a party in 2011.

An investigation into the alleged assault had been previously launched, but concluded without an arrest when police said they found no grounds to lay charges. The issue was raised again amid the scrutiny of her death, after a group of anonymous computer hackers released details related to the alleged attack. And this time it appears the investigation bore fruit.

In a brief statement on Thursday, the RCMP confirmed that two people were arrested in relation to the Rehtaeh Parsons investigation.

"This morning at 8 a.m., investigators from the Criminal Investigation Division arrested two males at their respective residences in HRM. They are in police custody and are currently being questioned by investigators," the statement reads.

[ Related: Two arrested in Halifax in case of Rehtaeh Parsons, police say ]

It is a bizarre move for police to announce an arrest without a charge, although one can take the move as an indication that charges are likely.

Still, the quick announcement is a stark reminder of the attention this story has garnered. Young men and women across Canada have turned to this story as a reminder they are not alone, governments have made sweeping changes to how serious they take cyberbullying.

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia introduced the Cyber-Safety Act, which allows victims of cyberbullying to sue their aggressors or, in the case of minors, their parents.

[ More Brew: No one rushing to emulate Nova Scotia’s cyberbullying law ]

The Nova Scotia law is not the first change made in Canada in the name of Rehtaeh Parsons. Earlier this year, the federal government launched a program to help fund anti-bullying campaigns. The Halifax school board launched a sweeping review into how it handles students who are being cyberbullied.

Charges will come as some relief to Rehtaeh's parents. Glen Canning, her father, has been a vocal advocate for change. Earlier this week, he wrote on his blog about how he is coping with her suicide.

"It’s said losing a child is the hardest thing a person can experience and if there is something worse I can’t imagine what it would be," Canning wrote, adding that he was disillusioned by the lack of charges.

"I am very proud of my daughter for speaking out about what happened to her. I know it wasn’t easy and I understand now why most women choose to remain silent. Sexual assault victims really do become the accused when the crimes against them are investigated."

Whether these arrests lead to charges is still to be determined. But it is a sign that investigators are taking her death seriously. Finally, four months after her death, Rehtaeh Parsons is being heard.

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