HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s Justice Department is looking for ways to review a grieving mother’s questions about the RCMP’s handling of her daughter’s allegations of sexual assault, an incident the girl’s mother says led to the teenager’s suicide.
After initially saying there would not be a review, Justice Minister Ross Landry changed his position late Tuesday night, asking his department to present him with options for a review.
Leah Parsons spoke out Tuesday about the case of her 17-year-old daughter, Rehtaeh, who was pulled off life-support Sunday night after she hanged herself last week.
Parsons said she is dissatisfied that the RCMP concluded there were no grounds to charge four boys over allegations they sexually assaulted Rehtaeh about 18 months ago.
In a statement, Landry says he hopes to meet with Rehtaeh’s mother to discuss her experience with the justice system.
“This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened — as I think are all Nova Scotians — by the death of this young woman,” he said in the statement.
“I know that law enforcement and the public prosecution service do their best, every day, to administer and enforce the law,” he added. “It’s important that Nova Scotians have faith in the justice system and I am committed to exploring the mechanisms that exist to review the actions of all relevant authorities to ensure the system is always working to the best of its ability, in pursuit of justice.”
Landry expects senior officials to present him with options to conduct a review of the case within the next few days.
Earlier, Landry backed the RCMP’s handling of the case, saying: “In regards to the issue of second-guessing the police at every case, no, I’m not going to do that.”
After Rehtaeh’s story first surfaced in the Tuesday edition of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Parsons told several news outlets that she believes the justice system failed her child.
She said her daughter’s life took a turn when she was 15, after she was sexually assaulted by four boys at a home in November 2011. She said one of the boys took a photo of the alleged assault, and her daughter was subjected to bullying afterward as a result.
“They told the story that Rehtaeh had sex with them all,” Parsons told News 95.7.
“So everybody turned against Rehtaeh and she was a ‘slut’ and she was the one that they targeted.”
Parsons could not be reached for further comment.
The police launched a year-long investigation into the allegation but did not lay charges, Parsons said.
RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae said the Mounties and Halifax Regional Police launched a joint investigation in November 2011 into a report of a sexual assault and an inappropriate photo. He declined to name the alleged victim or talk specifically about the case, citing privacy concerns.
“That investigation was completed and in consultation with the Crown, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges,” MacRae said Tuesday.
He also confirmed police were investigating a “sudden death involving a young person” but declined to name the youth involved.
Members of the online hacking group Anonymous are taking aim at the alleged rapists, saying they will find and publish details about them.
Halifax school board spokesman Doug Hadley says he cannot confirm if the alleged perpetrators attend Cole Harbour High School, but he says he is concerned for the well-being of those involved.
“Given the intensity of emotions I am concerned for the well-being of everyone involved, including friends, family and staff.”
RCMP respond to threats from Anonymous and questions on the investigation
In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, MacRae said police are concerned about the threats to identify the alleged perpetrators.
“Anytime people are going to use social media to identify people that can be a concern for the police and the public. Social media is a form for people to express opinion, good and unfortunately bad,” says MacRae. “When people are going to use the social media world for harmful or potentially threats or criminal activity, police will certainly have to take a look and investigate. Right now we don’t see anything on the social media so we’ll have to basically make a determination if that does happen at that time.”
“The challenge in the social media world is people will sometimes hide behind that at a distance, probably thus the name website cause they’re trying to get points across without direct identification, so that can prevent a challenge.”
Rehtaeh’s mother says the four accused boys were interviewed by police 10 months after the incident was reported. MacRae wouldn’t offer specifics on the reasons behind the length of the investigation, but says generally investigations and preparing for interviews in complex cases takes time.
MacRae says there was also not enough evidence to lay child exploitation charges based on the photographs alone.
“I know some people are saying you know, it’s simple, there’s photographs and go with it. But there’s identification processes — where did the photo come from. So there’s more to this story and that’s really important.”
Nova Scotia public prosecution spokesperson Chris Hansen says the RCMP could have laid charges without the Crown, who do not require police to pre-screen charges with prosecutors.
In the end, Hansen says, it was the police who did not lay charges.
“We prosecute and police investigate and lay charges, so it up to them to make that decision to lay a charge or not,” says Hansen.
“I can tell you that we had two prosecutors review this quite thoroughly,” she says .
Two prosecutors were assigned to review the case. One looking into a possible sexual assault charge and another who specializes in child pornography cases to analyse the photographic evidence.
“We looked at all of the evidence surrounding the photo and we did a real sort of 360 view of that very thoroughly and there just was not the evidence to warrant a realistic prospect of conviction,” says Hansen.
A petition calling for an inquiry into the police investigation has so far received over 10, 000 signatures.
A Facebook page has been set up in tribute to Rehtaeh’s life, featuring dozens of photos of the smiling, bespectacled brunette, often with a dog by her side.
Hundreds of comments were posted on the page demanding someone be held accountable for Rehtaeh’s death.
“What is wrong with our society when a girl/woman is victimized and SHE is shunned!!” said one post.
Another user said young people must be protected from bullying to prevent similar tragedies.
“Clearly the justice system failed her, society failed her, the school system failed her, the mental health system failed her,” said another.
A funeral will be held for Parsons on Saturday.