Over the past number of months, Halifax Chronicle Herald reporter Selena Ross has been researching the failure of the authorities to lay any charges in the Rehtaeh Parsons case (until political pressure resulted in the case being reopened). This past week, she published her findings into the police investigation and the crown's refusal to lay charges. The fact that it has taken months to get this level of information speaks volumes. They also make depressing reading.
The tragedies of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd galvanized attention on the issue and lawmakers have swung into action by passing laws to address it. First, we saw the Cyber-safety Act in Nova Scotia and more recently the federal Conservative government introduced Bill C-13, Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. The Nova Scotia statute creates a CyberScan unit, headed by a former cop, to investigate cyberbullying, allows for anti-cyberbullying orders and allows victims (with their parents permission) to sue cyberbullies. The proposed federal legislation makes it a crime to distribute intimate images without consent.
When these laws were introduced, there was much self-congratulatory back slapping about how we are finally doing something, with the clear implication that these laws would have saved the lives of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, if only they’d been in effect earlier. That is simply not true.
Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd died because the police and the prosecutors did not use the laws that existed to seriously investigate the crimes that they were already the victims of. Making up new crimes may be a useful endeavour, but saying that it was the absence of laws like these that was responsible for these horrendous tragedies is an outright lie.
Amanda Todd was the victim of extortion, harassment, and child pornography at the hands of an adult online and her peers. All of these were crimes the day she was born and continued to be crimes the day that she died. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police failed to investigate, failed to prosecute and failed to give her hope for justice. The British Columbia agencies charged with protecting children in the province failed her as well.
Rehtaeh Parsons was the victim of sexual assault, harassment, child pornography and voyeurism offences at the hands of her peers. All of these (other than the voyeurism offence) were crimes the day she was born and and all were crimes the day that she died. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Halifax Regional Police Service failed to adequately investigate, failed to prosecute and failed to give her hope for justice.
Instead of stepping up and taking responsibility for the horrendous failure of those who are charged with protecting children, investigating and prosecuting crimes, police agencies and the politicians to whom they report have shrewdly deflected the attention of the media and the public towards new initiatives under the clear implication that it was the absence of these laws that failed these two young women.
While both laws (with their flaws) fill an important legal void as far as cyberbullying is concerned, the principal benefit to be derived from these laws is likely that it gives authorities fewer excuses to do nothing when children are the victims of such crimes.