Two teens face child pornography charges in case of Rehtaeh Parsons

HALIFAX – Child pornography charges laid against two Halifax teens in the Rehtaeh Parsons case will hopefully begin to ease the pain stemming from the 17-year-old girl’s death, police said Thursday.

But they also acknowledged that not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome of a case that has sparked an international outpouring of anger.

One 18-year-old man faces two counts of distributing child pornography, while another 18-year-old man faces charges of making and distributing child pornography. Both accused are due in youth court next Thursday.

“I can tell you that we hope that today’s arrests help the entire community to heal,” RCMP Chief-Supt. Roland Wells told a news conference.

“A young girl has died in what is a tragic set of circumstances. We all need to reflect on how we as a community can come together in Rehtaeh’s memory and see what we can do to work together to support our youth.”

Police said they would not release the identities of the accused, as they were minors at the time of the alleged offences.

Rehtaeh was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt in April in what her family says was prompted by months of bullying after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was passed around her school.

Earlier Thursday, Rehtaeh’s parents said news that two people were arrested brought them some solace, though the girl’s father expressed disappointment that his daughter never saw justice served in her short life.

“She’s dead now. She’s gone,” Glen Canning said in an interview at his home.

“It’s sad and in a way it’s a bit of relief that there may be some sense of justice done in this case.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier this year met with Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, said he hoped that the girl’s family would be given a degree of comfort with the progress in the case.

“This is a terrible tragedy that had touched not only the families but many other Canadians who have become familiar with what has transpired and the kind of risk this presents to all of our children,” Harper said in Saint John, N.B., where he was at the Irving Oil refinery.

“I just want to say how pleased we are that progress is being made. I hope it provides some measure of comfort to family members.”

Rehtaeh’s family has said the girl felt helpless after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted in November 2011 spread around her school.

Halifax police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said Thursday he could not fathom the pain Rehtaeh’s death has had on her loved ones.

“A young girl, who could easily have been my own daughter, experienced what appears to be the harsh nature of a world of people wanting to do harm and using social media to do it,” Blais said.

“I cannot begin to imagine the impact Rehtaeh’s death has had on her family and friends, nor do I expect today’s charges will bring them all the answers they seek.”

Police said there were no plans to lay charges in connection with the alleged sexual assault.

Blais said he recognizes the child pornography charges may not fulfil the expectations some had for the case.

“There has been much misinformation and misunderstanding in the public realm about this matter,” he said.

“What some people may believe occurred and what can be substantiated in a police investigation through verified evidence and what can finally be proved in court are often very different things.

“We, as police officers, cannot act on innuendo or speculation. We do not cultivate facts. We verify them.”

Wells said conjecture and rumours made about the case online only worked to hinder the progress of investigators.

“Some of the things that were put forward through social media has diverted our resources in the incorrect direction,” he said.

“It has been very difficult to deal with.”

The RCMP said earlier this year that they looked into the allegations of sexual assault and an inappropriate photo but after consulting with the province’s Public Prosecution Service, they concluded there weren’t enough grounds to lay charges.

A week after Rehtaeh’s death, police reopened their probe with a new team of investigators, saying they received new and credible information from someone who was willing to co-operate.

“I feel that the investigation wasn’t handled properly from the beginning and I’ve never seen the file, so I don’t really know why or how that happened,” Leah Parsons said earlier Thursday. “I’m just glad that it was reopened.”

Canning said he believes Rehtaeh could have been helped had the arrests happened sooner.

“She had no sense of justice right up until the day she died,” he said. “I do believe if this case was taken seriously, she would have felt value as a human being.”

The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service said Thursday evening that Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General was asked to get involved in the case at the time it was reopened.

Spokeswoman Chris Hansen said because Nova Scotia’s prosecution service provided advice to police during the initial investigation, it asked Ontario Crown attorneys to take over to avoid any “real or perceived” conflict. Hansen said the Ontario ministry would now assume the prosecution of the two teens charged.

Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the ministry, said in an email that it has been providing advice to police during their investigation, but would not comment further.

Rehtaeh’s death sparked widespread outrage and prompted the Nova Scotia government to launch reviews of the original police investigation into the case and the school board’s handling of the matter. Justice Minister Ross Landry said Thursday evening he would speak next week about the review of the original police investigation.

An independent review released in June concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job, but it was hindered by the fact that Rehtaeh was often absent from class. The report also said the Parsons family faced challenges when they turned to Nova Scotia’s mental health system for help.

The charges come a day after a new law took effect in the province that allows people to sue if they or their children are being cyberbullied. Victims can also seek a protection order that could place restrictions on or help identify the cyberbully.

Landry introduced the legislation weeks after Rehtaeh’s death.

— With files from Aly Thomson in Halifax and Michael Tutton in Saint John, N.B.