Rehtaeh Parsons's name became synonymous in Canada with online sexual cyber-bullying after her suicide following two years of torment. But now, saying her name is illegal in that country, thanks to a law that protects victims of child pornography that kicked in after her tormentors were charged for taking and passing around her photo. Bob speaks with Rehtaeh's father, Glen Canning.
BOB: It is one thing to be thrust by fate into the center of a news event and struggle as your name and personal experiences are bandied about willy nilly. But what if the news subject is a victim whose name is by law excluded from coverage, rendering her a virtual nonentity? This is what has happened to Rehtaeh Parsons, a 15-year-old Canadian victim first of sexual assault then of cyber-bullying when a digital photo of the assault, taken by one of her teenage attackers, emerged online. The traumatized teenager eventually took her own life. Now, three years later, the perpetrators are finally facing charges, not for sexual assault, but for the manufacture and distribution of child pornography. But because that is the charge and because she was a minor, a provision of Canadian law blocks any publication of Rehtaeh's name. This incenses her father, Glen Canning, who believes the justice system failed his daughter by neglecting to prosecute a rape, and now by rendering her a literally anonymous victim. Canning, believes the law ostensibly meant to protect his late daughter is instead protecting her tormentors and devaluing her memory. A warning: the details of this story are disturbing. Glen Canning, welcome to the show.
CANNING: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
BOB: Please tell me where this all began. The party.
CANNING: Ok, a lot of news reports have said she went to a party. But she didn't, she went to a sleepover at a friend's house that she'd recently met in Cole Harbour High - she'd just started grade 10. And the friend knew a couple boys who lived close by. And suggested that she should go over and see them so they did. And the boys happened to have some alcohol. Rehtaeh remembers having a few drinks of vodka and then she doesn't remember very much at all until the next morning.
BOB: And there was no inkling that she'd been assaulted until the photos emerged?
CANNING: No, what happened was she knew that when she woke up the next day that something was wrong. She knew because she could tell by her body, by sore points. She had bruises on her ankles and on her wrists. On the Monday the boys showed up, all four of them basically, showed up at school with the story that Rehtaeh Parsons was a slut. That she had slept with all of them. And she pretty much fled the school. Right then and there. One of them took a photograph of her being assaulted. Where she was hanging out a window, vomiting, while one of the males was pressed into her behind looking at the camera smiling, giving a thumbs up. Once the photo left the cell phone it pretty much went viral
BOB: The insult added to the injury was cyber-bullying and her reputation just being dragged through the mud.
CANNING: Yeah. There was girls who she had known since she was five years old. The friends she'd had for her whole life instantly turned on her and threatened to beat her up. Threatened to kill her. You know, they believed the story that she was a slut and they tormented her. And Rehtaeh tried for the next year and a half to reclaim her life and she would always end up having to have that photo shown in her face. You know, is this you? You're that girl hanging out the window throwing up? The last time she tried high school was a whole year later. Whole new community. Whole new group of friends and everything like that and she texts me two weeks after starting school, 'Dad I want to come up.' And I said 'why?' and she said 'there's people here saying stuff about me that's not true.' It followed her and she just didn't have a chance. She didn't have a chance at all to get her life back together.
BOB: And eventually she committed suicide.
CANNING: It came right out of the blue. I drove her home the night before from a sexual assault counselor session that she had. When she said that she had a good talk, she was telling me about setting resumes up and she seemed fine. She seemed happy. She'd met a good guy that was taking care of her and really thought a lot about her. And the next day, right out of the blue, I had a phone call from her Mom saying that I needed to get to the hospital right away. And that she'd hung herself. They can't find any brain activity.
BOB: There was no prosecution of the boys for rape, am I correct?
CANNING: Yeah. You're correct. In the original investigation they looked at the file and they said there's no evidence here that we can prove anything in court. So they didn't go ahead with any charges. But as soon as they opened up the file again after she died. They laid these child porn charges.
BOB: So after Rehtaeh's death, the police believed that they needed to do something and the charge was child pornography. What has taken place in the intervening time?
CANNING: The child porn, the first one, has concluded. The male who was involved with that pled guilty. He was sentenced last week. The other one is going to be tried on Monday. Then we have reason to believe that he is going to plead guilty to it as well. Nothing else. No investigation at all into the sexual assault aspect of this. Even though, in the courtroom they admit that in the photograph it shows Rehtaeh hanging out a window, vomiting from intoxication while someone is having sex with her.
BOB: The media of Canada may not print your daughter's name, ostensibly to protect to her. Is there any community in the province of Nova Scotia, where her name and this episode are not known to all.
CANNING: There's not a community at all that doesn't know the name Rehtaeh Parsons. Her name last week after there was a sentencing for the production of child pornography. Here a hashtag trended in Canada - #youknowhername. That's the hashtag. And after that, what was second trending was Rehtaeh Parsons. Everyone knows who she is. Everyone knows what's going on. And to me it almost seems like, Ok, the justice system wants to shut the story down. I believe in my heart the Canadian public is saying 'No, you're not going to shut this down, you're not going to erase her name. We're not going to allow that to happen.' And it comes to a point now where the justice system whatever they do, they just make themselves look even more ridiculous than they already have before. And good. I'm glad that they do because they deserve that.
BOB: And you are in the heart breaking of wanting Rehtaeh's story told.
BOB: Has none of the coverage in any of the papers identified her on the subject of the pornographic photo.
CANNING: No. Some of the media in Canada have tried to skirt around the issue by associating her name with Cyber-bullying, but when the child porn and the rape and the sexual assault comes up you know, they are ???? What happened was these charges were being brought forward in the courtroom and all of a sudden the judge said, 'Oh by the way it's the law in Canada, you can't name child pornography victims. And I literally watched her name disappear off the internet in Canada. I could go to websites, and wait -- these articles were here about her and they're gone. It was just unbelievably frustrating that they did something like, you know, when she was alive, you didn't do anything. Now that she's dead, a year after she's dead all of a sudden you're going to enforce the law. Who's the ban protecting? It's protecting a system that really, really needs to be exposed.
BOB: Now you yourself have found yourself at cross purposes with the law. Tell me about that.
CANNING: I've never stopped using my daughter's name. I never will. So I violate this publication ban every chance I get. It has been frustrating because I do a lot of talking in high schools about cyber-bullying and what happened to my daughter and I have no hesitation at all to use her name. But the media for some reason will shy away from actually covering that. Even though it's a very important conversation to have. But I've been reported to the police. Another journalist in Canada, Ryan Van Horne has violated the ban. Because he believes it is in the public interest to do so. ?? police have announced recently that they're not going to charge any of us. So rather than say, the ban makes no sense what they're doing, really, is saying we won't charge anyone with it, but we will going ahead. But I'm very hurt by it, because I know, I know my daughter. I know her - in her heart she would be outraged by this ban. This ban is almost trying to erase her name from a story that could bring a lot of positive change in Canada. It's like they're just trying to erase it and shut the conversation down. I'll never rest allowing that to happen. There's no way.
BOB: Glen, I think you.
CANNING: Absolutely. I think you so much for letting me speak about my daughter. Rehtaeh deserves to be a part of this story and I want her name to go down as part of this story.
BOB: Glen Canning is the father of Rehtaeh Parsons and an advocate for victims of sexual assault and cyber-bullying.