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Father of victim in child porn case decries publication ban

11/28/2014 04:47 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST
Editor's note: This is a commentary by the father of the teenaged girl at the centre of a high-profile child pornography case. Two young men have been convicted of distributing child pornography. Because of court-ordered publication bans, we cannot name the young men, the teenaged girl, or her father. The girl died in 2013. She was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt.

Earlier this week in Halifax, I sat alone in a quiet office before a video screen, waiting to speak before the Senate Committee on Justice.

I was asked to participate and share my thoughts on Bill C-13, privacy, cyber-abuse and the sharing of intimate images. It was my second appearance before the committee and, unlike the first time, I sat there with a very strong sense of sadness. 

The Senate chair opened the meeting with a warning to those present that my daughter's name was under a publication ban, and Parliamentary privilege would not protect the Senators if they left the room and talked openly about her.

We spent the meeting talking about changing Canadian law, but we can’t mention the 17-year-old girl whose suffering and death made those changes necessary.

Sadness is the only word I can think of that fits. This is sad. And this is wrong.

Publication ban

In April, Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Jamie Campbell imposed the publication ban because it was mandatory under the Canadian Criminal Code. He did so despite opposition from the Crown attorney in the case, a legal challenge from four local media outlets and a plea from both myself and my daughter’s mother.

We lost, even though the judge said the ban was futile due to the highly publicized nature of the case, that the facts of the case “screamed for a solution," and that the "young person whose identity is purported to be protected by the publication ban is more than just well-known.” 

The facts of this case do scream for a solution and I’ve put my heart into fighting for what I believe is right. There’s been opposition – some of it warranted and some of it downright cruel. 

But the very worst I've dealt with by far is the publication ban. I say this believing the law behind it is a good law and I understand the judge's reasoning in imposing it. It’s a bad situation to be in – complaining publicly about the law not being enforced while at the same time asking for a different law to be ignored.

Answer seems easy

But like Judge Campbell said, this case screams for a solution. And solutions never come from silence, only injustice comes from silence.

The answer seems easy. The Nova Scotia director of public prosecutions or the attorney general could issue a pronouncement stating that the ban will not be enforced because it would not be in the public interest to do so.

I’ve written the Crown twice asking for just that. My first letter garnered the response that nothing could be done until the law was broken. Following freelance journalist Ryan Van Horne’s breach of the ban I wrote the Crown again. I’m still waiting for an answer.

Van Horne has posted on his blog that in a letter to media lawyer Nancy Rubin, Director of Public Prosecutions Martin Herschorn stated he and Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab decided not to give media the green light to begin using the name again. Herschorn said doing so would be “unprecedented… and inappropriate in this context.”

Inappropriate in this context. That would be the context of the victim no longer being alive, her name known around the world, the wishes of her loving parents, and even the victim's own words saying she wanted her story to be told to the media. There will never be a more appropriate context than this.

Law never enforced when daughter alive

I’ve beaten myself up wondering what the reasoning behind their stance could possibly be and I hate where it leads me. 

The law was never enforced when my daughter was alive. That much is obvious considering the two individuals pleading guilty in her case. There was no evidence that came forward after she died that wasn’t there when she was alive. Nova Scotia RCMP Supt. Roland Wells sat in my living room and told me just that. The child pornography charges could have been laid when it would have mattered, but weren’t. Why not is a big question.

The other big question is why sexual assault charges weren't laid? Either now or then? There was a picture of it, for God’s sake. Crown Attorney Smith entered the photo into the facts of the case along with the statement that she couldn’t have given consent to the photo being taken due to her condition. And the reasoning behind not laying sexual assault charges? If she couldn’t give consent to the photo being taken are we supposed to believe she gave consent for the sex?

Why not then, why not rape?

Answers. That’s all we can ask for. Answers to some pretty important questions. When Murray Segal was appointed to review the police involvement in this case, we handed him a list of questions we would like answered. Those are two of our biggest – why not then, and why not rape?

We have other questions of course: why did the case stay open for a year if they didn’t speak once to any of the accused? Why didn’t they seize any evidence? Why did they allow child pornography to spread throughout Halifax and not once do a single thing to stop it even though they knew who was distributing it? 

Why? Why did they go on national television following her death and announce they had no evidence to substantiate a charge of sexual assault while not mentioning the reason for that? There was no evidence because they didn’t gather any.

So the ban is in place and the Chronicle Herald is now being looked at thanks to someone going to the police and reporting the ban being violated. It wasn’t me or [Redacted]'s mother. It was someone whose intentions are the exact opposite of protecting my daughter. Someone out there knowing reporting the violation angers me and causes us a lot of grief. Yes, someone is that sick.

The place I hate to go

And the police will take the statement, investigate it, and the Crown will no doubt say it’s not in the public's interest to pursue charges. And like the last time, they’ll come out and say they will look at each case individually in the future instead of coming out and saying that ban will NEVER be enforced because it will NEVER be in the public's interest to do so.

The place I hate to go is the place that leaves me wondering whose interest is being protected here? Certainly not my daughter's. Not us. Not a public who deserves answers and assurances that sexual assault is always investigated with all the power the police can muster. 

The timing is suspicious. A year after her death and eight months after charges were brought forward, the ban came into effect. Way too little, too late, for the hypocrisy not to be noticed. 

I received an email this week from the review team saying that now that the charges have been dealt with the review is about to proceed. Isn’t it just perfect that the people whose decisions are about to be examined are the very people who can lift the ban but won’t? 

'My pug could have solved this case'

My pug could have solved this case. [Redacted] would have smiled at me for writing that. Smiled and given me that look only she could give.

Nothing good ever came from silence. Our history has been written by those who knew the law was wrong, spoke up, and changed it. All I’m asking for is some leadership, some open and free justice, and some compassion. Refusing to make a declaration in this case does not make the Crown a part of justice, it makes them part of the problem.

I will forever be grateful to the Chronicle Herald and Ryan Van Horne for breaking the ban. They and hundreds of my daughter's friends (some of whom have had police officers telling them to stop or they’ll be arrested). Not to mention the thousands of others who see the injustice of this ban and break it every day all over the world.

[Redacted] is her name. See how horrible that sounds when you say it out loud with the redacted word?

"My public life is before you; and I know you will believe me when I say, that when I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?” – Joseph Howe

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