Hundreds gather in Halifax to remember Rehtaeh Parsons

HALIFAX – The outpouring of grief and anger over the death of  Retaeh Parsons continues to grow, as people from around the world share the story of the Halifax high school, who was the victim of cyberbullying after an alleged sexual assault.

But, the call for justice remains strongest in Halifax – where hundreds of people joined a vigil Thursday evening to remember Parsons at a peaceful, but emotional, gathering.

The crowd of about 250 people marched into Victoria Park, on Spring Garden Road, carrying pictures of the 17-year-old girl and lighting candles in her memory.

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“We need a space to express the [grieving]. It’s also a chance for people to be able to come together and show support as a community,” said El Jones, a friend of Rehtaeh’s aunt who organized the vigil on behalf of the family.
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Jones says the family wants the vigil to send a message of healing, hope and love.

She notes that unfortunately Rehtaeh wasn’t alone in her struggle.

“There are so many women and girls everyday that this is happening to. We have to remember [them],” Jones said.

She believes the issue is a systematic one and there needs to be an overhaul of how society talks about sex.

“Women are called sluts and hos and until we think about that and why we attack women who are seen to be sexualized and until we teach boys that their manhood
isn’t defined by how much sex they have…this is going to happen.”

Her cousin Angela Parsons also gave a moving tribute to Rehtaeh.

Don Perrie attended the vigil with his wife, young daughter and young son. He says that his wife knows Rehtaeh’s mother and they wanted to show their support for the family.

“It’s tragic. We’re talking to our children about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” he said.

“For my daughters, it’s thing she should be aware of and for my son, it’s how he should respect women.”

“We’re coming in hopes that this family will get some results and closure,” said Pamela Ferguson, who attended the vigil with her daughter and granddaughter.

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“That poor girl is gone. Her family’s life is wrecked.”

Erin MacKay attended the vigil and tells Global News that she was once a bully victim.

“We have to teach the kids that bullying and victim blaming and all those things are incredibly wrong,” she said.

Representatives of suicide prevention and sexual assault organizations also spoke to the crowd, telling them that there are options and resources for victims.

At the same time an online petition, calling for an independent review of how the police handled the investigation has topped 100,000 signatures.

There’s a major push for authorities to reopen the investigation into the alleged sexual assault of Parsons, and there is a threat from an internet hacker group to release the names of the four men accused of raping her, and sharing photographs of the incident,  if police don’t hold them responsible.

RCMP and Halifax Regional Police have warned against any sort of vigilante justice.

The attention on the case prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to speak out, saying she wasn’t the victim of bullying, but of criminal activity.

Parsons  died late Sunday night, when her family took her off life support, three days after she hanged herself in her Cole Harbour home.

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Her mother, Leah Parsons, says her daughter took her life because of relentless taunting following the November 2011 sexual assault.

She shared her daughter’s troubled last years in a Facebook post that quickly went viral.

The once straight-A student, her mother says,  suffered emotionally as a photograph of the assault was distributed among her peers.

Even changing schools didn’t stop the taunting, Retaeh’s parents say she endured.

Amanda Todd’s mom reaches out to Rehtaeh Parsons’ mother

Nova Scotia has tried to tackle the issue of cyberbullying, following a number of bullying-related teen suicides in recent years.

But, Parsons’ father, Glen Canning, published a blog post Wednesday sharing the disappointment the family had with the justice system, the police and her schools.

“My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police,” Canning wrote.

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