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.
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.
One photo shows a young Rehtaeh nuzzling a dolphin. Another shows her playing on a sandy beach as a youngster. A more recent snap captures Rehtaeh playfully sticking her pierced tongue out at the camera.
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.