The father of a teenage girl who died by suicide eight years ago has preserved her legacy in a new book, which aims to draw attention to the misogyny and victim-blaming that ultimately ended her life.
Rehtaeh Parsons was 17 years old when she attempted suicide at her home in Dartmouth, N.S., and was later taken off life support in 2013. It came after she faced cyberbullying and harassment from her classmates after a photo was circulated showing her alleged sexual assault at a party.
Her death drew international attention and prompted a new anti-cyberbullying law, but her father, Glen Canning, said cyberbullying wasn’t the only issue.
“A lot of people think that Rehtaeh died because she was cyberbullied — and it played a part of that — but a bigger part of her entire story really is a story about victim-blaming and misogyny,” Canning told Global News Morning in an interview from Toronto.
“It was just wrapped up in that completely, from start to finish, even after she died.”
My Daughter Rehtaeh Parsons, written along with journalist Susan McClelland, takes a look at what happened to Parsons and dives into the various systems that failed her, including the mental health system, the justice system, and the societal systems that allow for misogyny and victim-blaming.
“I didn’t think that something like this would happen to my daughter. I know in my heart it didn’t have to be like this,” he said.
“She just didn’t seem to matter. Her life didn’t seem to matter. She didn’t seem to count as much as, say, she would have if she was a young man, and I think that’s shameful and something we all have to wear.”
Canning spoke about internalized misogyny, too, noting that most of the harassment lobbed at Parsons came from other girls.
“One of the things that kind of surprised me, and I have a hard time figuring out, was how easy it was to make her the person who did something wrong,” Canning said. “She just went to a party and she drank too much, and I’ve done that when I was a kid, too.
“And all you should worry about from something like that was waking up feeling up awfully sick. You shouldn’t wake up with your entire life destroyed.”
Canning hopes the book will shed some light both on his daughter’s story, and the larger issue of sexual violence and misogyny in Canada.
While things are improving, he said there’s a lot left to work on. He pointed at the issue of sexual misconduct in the military as an example.
“It causes so much grief and so much harm and we have to put a better foot forward here when we start to address it and combat it,” he said.
Turning a page
The cover of My Daughter Rehtaeh Parsons, published by Goose Lane Editions, shows a photo of a smiling Parsons, against a colourful, sandy-looking background that reminds Canning of a trip he and his daughter took to Cozumel.
The picture of Parsons was taken at a tattoo shop shortly after her assault, Canning said.
“But I could see the look in her face, where it was just a look of healing and almost a bit of excitement that she’d be able to move on from something,” he said. “So I see that in that book cover, and it just kind of resonates with me quite a bit.”
Along with raising awareness for what happened to his daughter, and the wider issue of misogyny and victim blaming, Canning hopes the book will provide him with some healing, too.
“I’m very anxious, a little bit frightened, some scared I guess, but at the same time I’m really excited to turn a page on this,” said Canning of the book’s release.
“This is a chapter of my life that I’m hoping to heal from and move forward from, and I think writing this book and having it come out today is the first step in that.”