HALIFAX – A review into the handling of the Rehtaeh Parsons case by the RCMP and Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service says it was reasonable of the Crown to conclude there was no realistic prospect that sexual assault charges would result in conviction.
The provincial government ordered the review by Murray Segal, a former Ontario chief prosecutor, in August 2013 but it was delayed until legal proceedings involving two men charged with child pornography offences in the case concluded.
“Another Crown counsel could have reasonably chosen to prosecute the sexual assault component of the case, but it no doubt presented a unique challenge for the prosecution,” says the report released Thursday.
“The police investigator understood that the decision whether to lay charges was still hers to make but in light of the Crown prosecutor’s opinion, the decision not to lay charges of sexual assault was understandable.”
The young woman’s family alleged she was sexually assaulted in November 2011 when she was 15 and bullied after a digital photo of the alleged assault was passed around her school. Parsons was taken off life-support after attempting suicide in 2013.
Police said they looked into the allegations of sexual assault and an inappropriate photo, but concluded there weren’t enough grounds to lay charges after consulting with the prosecution service.
The child pornography charges were laid after Parsons died.
A 20-year-old man pleaded guilty last November to distributing a sexually graphic image of Parsons. Another 20-year-old man later pleaded guilty to making child pornography by taking a photo of the accused having sex with Parsons.
Both men were youths at the time of the offences and were charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which means they cannot be identified.
Segal’s report also deals with the subsequent allegations of child pornography and says the police investigator was told by another Crown prosecutor that those offences could not be prosecuted. The investigator was told it was not possible to tell from the photo that the persons involved were under age.
“The Crown’s advice related to child pornography offences was incorrect,” the report says.
“It reflected a misunderstanding of the law as it relates to child pornography.”
The report says the Internet Child Exploitation Unit reviewed the file and concluded that child pornography charges could have been laid at the conclusion of the initial investigation.
In his report, Segal describes Parsons as a “vibrant and promising young woman” with a loving and supportive family.
He writes that Parsons was “devastated by the circulation of an intimate photograph taken without her consent, and the bullying and cyberbullying that resulted from it.”
The investigation into Parsons’ allegations of sexual assault took close to a year to conclude, the report says.
It was during that time that Parsons changed schools twice and was hospitalized for weeks following renewed thoughts of suicide.
“In the end, she did not receive the support and assistance a young person in crisis required,” the report says.