Rehtaeh Parsons's name can be reported in child pornography case

Rehtaeh Parsons's name can be reported in child pornography case

Rehtaeh Parsons's father says the hard-fought decision today not to prosecute those who respectfully publish his daughter's name "feels like an early Christmas gift."

Glen Canning and other supporters have fought the publication ban on his daughter's name.

"Last Christmas, we didn't have a whole lot to be happy about," he said.

"This year the wounds are still there, the hurt is still there, but at least now you know that there are people who will do the right thing and I believe that and this was the right thing to do."

Canning spoke Wednesday after Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service was instructed not to prosecute anyone who publishes Rehtaeh's name. Her death made international headlines and her name became synonymous with a cross-Canada debate over sexual assault and bullying. ​

Two young men have pleaded guilty to child pornography charges over a photo of Rehtaeh, who died by suicide at age 17 in April 2013.

The men cannot be identified because they were minors at the time of the offence in the fall of 2011. One of the men who pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography last month will be sentenced Jan. 15 after a pre-sentence report is prepared.

On Wednesday, the attorney general and Justice Minister Lena Diab said there is one major exception in allowing use of Rehtaeh's name — that it cannot be used in a derogatory way.

"The intent of this directive is to make it clear that the respectful use of Rehtaeh's name will not be prosecuted," said Diab in a news release Wednesday morning.

"This decision wasn't made lightly. I carefully considered the original intent of the law to protect victims, and I listened to the views of Rehtaeh's parents, supporters, legal experts and Nova Scotians. This directive strikes the right balance."

Derogatory means anything disrespectful, says a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, though she wouldn't be more specific.

'It's important to speak her name'

Canning said there has been a lot of frustration surrounding the ban.

"I am so happy right now that Lena Diab made some motion on it and absolutely did the right thing. I believe that everyone will believe that that was the right thing to do," he said.

"I think it's important to speak her name because with the ban like that, there was a grey area — and this is where the frustration came from. We know that some of Rehtaeh's friends were terrified to say her name on Facebook, they were scared to use it on Twitter, they didn't know if they could or not."

Canning said Rehtaeh's name helped to spread awareness about cyberbullying.

"Her face, and her name, resonated with people. It spread around the world. It's had a huge impact and it's done an awful lot of good things," he said.

"It's caused a lot of action. It's caused a lot of good things, and if we can use this as a way to stop it from ever happening again, then that's just the best."

Last month, The Chronicle Herald, published in Halifax, broke the ban in its court coverage of the case.

'Clarity was needed'

Wednesday's directive isn't a new position, but rather clarifies how the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service has been advising police since the ban was imposed in May, said the release.

Before The Chronicle Herald breached the ban, another journalist and several members of the public were investigated for doing the same, but police announced at the time they wouldn't be laying charges.

Public prosecutors have been asked for months to provide a directive, but have declined, saying it would be unprecedented.

"Clarity was needed, and that's what this directive does," said Martin Herschorn, the director of the Public Prosecution Service.

During consultations with Diab that began in May, Herschorn said they began to realize people were confused about how to work around the ban. It only applied to public statements connecting Rehtaeh with the two child pornography cases, but was often misunderstood.

"There was confusion amongst the public, amongst the media, amongst members of academia, about what use could be made of Rehtaeh Parsons's name," said Herschorn.

For example, they saw it affecting classroom conversations, he said.

"Our desire is not to inhibit that kind of discussion," Herschorn said.

The director also said this is the first time in the 24-year history of the prosecution service that a directive has been issued for a specific case, rather than a category of cases.

"We are confident this is exceptional and that it should not send any weakening message to [other] victims, that their interests … will be protected," he said.

Rehtaeh taken off life support

The directive says the publication ban law is meant to protect victims from harm, intimidation or retaliation, and encourage people to report and testify about offences. Any use of Rehtaeh's name that detracts from that intent may still be prosecuted.

Canadians who break the publication ban in provinces outside Nova Scotia could still be prosecuted by their local authorities, said Herschorn.

A coalition of media organizations, including CBC, appealed the ban last spring, but Judge Jamie Campbell upheld it, saying he had no other option under the law. However, he said it "serves no purpose" in this case and in his written decision, he noted that Nova Scotia public prosecutors could decide not to prosecute breaches.

Halifax Regional Police have full control over whether to lay charges in any case, though they would consult with public prosecutors prior to making their decision.

A police spokesman, Const. Pierre Bourdages, said Diab's ministerial order provides "clarity."

"Current investigations and future complaints involving possible breaches of the publication ban will be reviewed in the context of the ministerial directive and closed unless investigators, in consultation with the Public Prosecution Service, ascertain the victim’s name has been used in a derogatory way," Bourdages said in a statement.

Rehtaeh's family says the girl was sexually assaulted by four boys at a party when she was 15 years old, and then a digital photo of the incident was circulated at school and on social media.

After her suicide attempt, the 17-year-old was taken off life support a few days later.