The father of a Nova Scotia teen whose suicide brought the issue of Internet bullying to the forefront says she tried to convince him they should go public on the matter.
Glen Canning said the plan to go to the media was hatched by his daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons, in the months leading up to her death this past April.
Canning told a news conference in Montreal on Thursday that both he and Parsons’ mother decided at the time that going public was not the right thing to do, even though the former photojournalist could have easily made it happen.
With all his daughter was going through, Canning felt at the time she would have been overwhelmed by the media exposure.
But now, he says he would go public under similar circumstances.
“She wanted to do something like that but I felt at the time there was so much going on in her life, it would have been overwhelming,” Canning said. “Looking back, I wish I’d done that.”
He said he would advise parents of kids who have been victimized by cyberbullying and are being ignored by authorities to go that route with the caveat that the child be aware of the cost of going to the press.
Sometimes, that option might be inevitable, he noted.
“If your child is being cyberbullied and getting threats online, on Facebook and text messages and it goes on and on and on and you’ve been complaining, what are your options here?”
Canning was in Montreal to give a lecture organized by Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy and to lend support for better services for sex assault victims at post-secondary institutions.
Bianca Mugyenyi of the centre said Concordia’s plan to open a sexual assault centre is a start, but more needs to be done.
“What we’re dealing with is a cultural problem, a societal problem and so a lot of work needs to be done with respect to consent and consent education,” Mugyenyi said.
“We really need to end rape culture ultimately … we need to believe survivors, we need to protect them, we need to support them and we need to end victim blaming.”
Canning knows this all too well. His own daughter’s death was brought on by months of bullying following an alleged sexual assault.
Rehtaeh’s family has said the girl felt helpless after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted circulated around the school.
Parsons was admitted to hospital in March 2012, a few months after the alleged November 2011 assault, and became suicidal.
The 17-year-old girl hanged herself in April this year and was taken off life-support three days later.
Her death drew international media attention after her parents went public in the days that followed.
Canning has pressed Nova Scotia’s political parties to launch a judicial inquiry into his daughter’s death.
Canning said it’s heart-breaking when a child musters up the courage to denounce bullying and the school fails to act, as was his experience.
He believes it is a conversation all Canadians need to be having.
“You need to get people start talking about this and you need to get people to start engaging their governments too,” said Canning.
“Sometimes governments will do what’s most popular or what’s easiest and you can’t let that happen. You have to make them do what’s right — and that’s putting kids first.”
In August, two teens were charged with child-pornography charges. The case was reopened one week after Parsons’ death when, according to authorities, they received new and credible information from someone who was willing to co-operate. Initially, police had said there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges.
Canning lamented that his daughter never saw justice served while she was alive.
“The bullying that goes on today is not a part of growing up, it’s not a rite of passage for anybody,” said Canning.
“We’ve given our kids a communication tool that is like a dragon that’s not tamed at all.
”They can spread stuff so fast and to so many people and there’s no way to contain it and we’re not teaching kids to use it responsibly and we’re not holding kids accountable when they don’t.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected version; a previous story said Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide in 2012