NEWS

Rehtaeh Parsons suspects face pornography charges today

08/15/2013 06:42 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT
Two young men face child pornography charges today in a high-profile court case connected to Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who was bullied online and then took her own life.

The 17-year-old died in April. She was taken off of life support a few days after a suicide attempt.

According to Rehtaeh's parents, four boys sexually assaulted their daughter at a house party when she was 15. The Cole Harbour, N.S., teen was then said to have been mocked by classmates, enduring relentless harassment and humiliation after a digital photo of the attack was circulated at school and on social media.

The boys charged in the case are both 18, but they can't be named because they were youths at the time of the alleged offences.

One is charged with creating and distributing child pornography. The other faces two distribution charges.

It's not clear whether the accused will appear in person or if defence lawyers will appear on their behalf.

Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the chair of the province’s task force on cyberbullying, said the case is a legal anomaly.

“It's relatively unusual to have young people charged with child pornography, though there are a few other precedents for that,” he said. "So there are so many new elements that have come out of the Rehtaeh Parsons situation that it seems to be a never-ending process."

Presumption of innocence

A significant media presence is expected at Thursday’s court appearance.

The case has received intense national and international attention, since Rehtaeh’s family began telling their version of the story after her death in April.

There was an overwhelming public reaction, with people questioning why there were no charges laid in the case.

The online collective Anonymous threatened to name the youths involved if Nova Scotia authorities didn't take action.

Elizabeth Buckle, president of the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said the widespread speculation blanketing the case is troublesome.

“One of the things that shocks me is how little we're hearing about the presumption of innocence and how many people are giving comment about the facts without knowing all the facts,” she said.

Buckle said it was unusual to hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper comment on the progress being made in the case as it moves before the courts.

“I think it ignores the presumption of innocence, and it ignores that maybe no criminal offence took place here,” she said.

Halifax police and RCMP decided to reopen the case in mid-April after her death, saying that new and credible information had been brought forward.

Murray Segal, a former Ontario prosecutor, has been appointed to conduct an independent review of the handling of the Rehtaeh Parsons case by police and the Public Prosecution Service in Nova Scotia.

The province enacted anti-cyberbullying legislation the day before the child porn charges were laid last week. The new legislation gives victims the ability to sue alleged cyberbullies, or their parents if those accused are minors.

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