Rehtaeh was taken off life support and died Sunday following a suicide attempt after she was allegedly bullied for months
Her mother, Leah Parsons, alleges Rehtaeh was raped by four boys who took photos of the incident, which she says sparked bullying and harassment.
No charges have been laid.
"First of all, obviously our hearts here go out to the family. I think everybody who has heard this story, seen this story, were shocked, were saddened. I can just tell you, you know Laureen and I, as a parent of a teenaged daughter, you're just sickened seeing a story like this," Harper told a group of reporters at an event in Calgary Thursday evening.
The prime minister said what Rehtaeh claims happened to her goes beyond bullying.
"I think we've got to stop using just the term bullying to describe some of these things. Bullying to me has a kind of connotation … of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity. It is youth criminal activity, it is violent criminal activity, it is sexual criminal activity and it is often internet criminal activity," said Harper.
"And obviously we are looking at ways to combat this and to deal with it when it happens and obviously I'm encouraged to see and to hear that in Nova Scotia, they are thinking [of] reopening this particular matter."
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter has appointed four government departments to look into the death of Rehtaeh.
Dexter has promised a timely and thorough response and review of the events surrounding the teen's death.
"I will do everything in my power to create a community that is equipped to prevent these situations, rather than a community that struggles to find a way to deal with them," said Dexter.
Initially, provincial Justice Minister Ross Landry said his department couldn't second-guess every police investigation, but late on Tuesday, he said he was giving officials in his department approval to review the case, and present him with options by the end of the week.
Landry also said he's considering new laws when it comes to allegations of sexual assault and distribution of child pornography.
For the review, Marilyn More, the minister responsible for the status of women and a Dartmouth MLA, will lead the response.
The provincial departments involved are:
- Education and early childhood development.
- Community services.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson released a statement Thursday afternoon after a discussion with Landry.
"We need to treat youth crime seriously, and we must never forget the victims. Our government has taken, and will continue to take, significant action when it comes to cracking down on violent crime,” said Nicholson.
“Our comprehensive crime legislation, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, now requires Crown prosecutors to consider seeking adult sentences for youth who commit serious violent offences like aggravated sexual assault and murder. It also requires courts to consider lifting the publication ban for young persons who receive youth sentences for violent offences where there are public safety concerns.”
Nicholson went on to say that Canadians should not take justice into their own hands.
"Our government will remain vigilant when it comes to protecting Canada's most vulnerable individuals — our children," he said.
Possible vigilantes warned
RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae said police are seeing misinformation on mainstream and social media.
“At this time, we can honestly say we're confident we know the identities of the people involved in Rehtaeh's rape. It would probably take us a lot longer to come up with a list of the people responsible for her death,” said Anonymous.
“Just to clear things up once and for all for the young men in Nova Scotia who are unlikely to hear this from any of their role models: vomiting drunk girls are not capable of giving you consent to have sex with them.”
Thursday afternoon, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais and Halifax District RCMP Supt. Roland Wells met with Parsons.
During the meeting, Parsons asked police to convey the family’s wish for their privacy to be respected in the days leading up to and including Rehtaeh’s funeral.
In a news release, police asked anyone with specific information in this case to get in contact them.
In the release, police reiterated calls discouraging vigilante action against anyone alleged to have been involved.
“We discourage anyone from taking the law into their own hands, or in any way encouraging vigilante justice. The information being used is unverified or may lead to an assumption of guilt towards people that may not actually be involved. Only a police investigation in which evidence is collected and verified can lead to such conclusions,” stated the release signed by Blais and Wells.
“Police want to make clear that making a threat or allegation against someone's life is a criminal offence.”
Dexter used his time in the House Thursday afternoon to pass along a message from Rehtaeh's mother.
"In her comments, she has a very important message for Nova Scotians. More violence is not the answer. Justice is to be done in the justice system. The family has asked that I implore Nova Scotians not to take matters into their own hands. That is what Rehtaeh would have wanted."
Others blamed for teen's death
On Wednesday, infamous hacking group Anonymous said it would avenge the death of Rehtaeh, despite a plea from police urging people not to take justice into their own hands.
The group says it has identified four boys connected to the case.
“What we have learned is certainly appalling, but it wasn't the act of rape that shocked us. It was the behaviour of the adults in Rehtaeh's life that we found most disturbing,” the group wrote in a news release sent out Thursday morning.
“We're talking about the school teachers, administrators, the police and prosecutors, those who should have been role models in the late Rehtaeh's life,” read the release.
“We point our fingers at the Cole Harbour school system. It is truly disturbing that this level of bullying could happen in one of your schools without you noticing.
“Ross Landry's reversal of his decision [to] not investigate this case after a media blitz is clearly an indication that his sudden interest is purely an act of public relations damage control,” the release said about Nova Scotia's justice minister.
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