The father of Rehtaeh Parsons says there have been positive changes in the year since his daughter’s death, but more must be done to change the treatment of sexual assault victims in the justice system.
Glen Canning said Rehtaeh’s story has sparked a global conversation about cyberbullying and sexual assault and has triggered societal changes, including the Nova Scotia government’s Cyber-Safety Act, which allows people to try to restrict the cyberbully and sue if they or their children are cyberbullied.
But in the year ahead, the conversation needs to shift, said Canning.
“There’s been an awful lot of positive things that have happened,” said Canning in a recent phone interview. “But I think now what we need to do is take that lead and that kind of conversation and turn it around and do to… sexual assault what we did with cyberbullying.”
Dozens of people gathered in the Halifax neighbourhood of Cole Harbour on Saturday to commemorate Rehtaeh, two days before the one-year anniversary of her death.
People donned rain coats and clutched signs as they walked in the rain to a church hall, where Rehtaeh’s mother Leah Parsons and Canning made speeches to people young and old.
Canning said Rehtaeh felt from the beginning that she was being treated by police as part of the crime and not a victim.
“Victims should know that they can come forward in a safe environment where they’re going to be believed and they can trust the system,” said Canning, adding that police need more training on how to handle sexual assault cases.
“We need to bring about a change so that victims know the police will do everything they can to bring about justice for them, and I don’t think that was the case with our daughter. I don’t think they did everything they could.”
Parsons was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt last April that her family says was prompted by months of bullying. They say the 17-year-old girl was tormented after a digital photograph of her allegedly being sexually assaulted in November 2011 was passed around her school.
Two teens are facing charges of distributing child pornography in connection with the case, while one of them also faces a charge of making child pornography.
The matter is still before the courts and they cannot be named because they were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offences and both are charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.