HALIFAX – The parents of Rehtaeh Parsons said the arrests Thursday of two people in their daughter’s case brings them some solace, though the girl’s father expressed disappointment that his daughter never saw justice served in her short life.
The Halifax girl was 17 years old when she hanged herself in April after months of cyberbullying and an alleged sexual assault. She was taken off life-support days later.
Her father, Glen Canning, said news that two males had been arrested and taken into custody for questioning was “bittersweet” for a family still grieving Rehtaeh’s death.
“She’s dead now. She’s gone,” Canning said in an interview at his home.
“It’s sad and in a way it’s a bit of relief that there may be some sense of justice done in this case.”
Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, said she was at home early Thursday morning when a police officer showed up on her doorstep to deliver the news in person.
“We’re just hopeful there’s charges laid and others to arrest, hoping that they’re finally willing to tell their side of the story,” she said.
“A sense of relief came over me that at least they’re going to be questioned.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier this year met with Leah Parsons, said he hopes the arrests give some degree of comfort to Rehtaeh’s family.
“This is a terrible tragedy that had touched not only the families but many other Canadians who have become familiar with what has transpired and the kind of risk this presents to all of our children,” Harper said in Saint John, N.B., where he was at the Irving Oil refinery.
“I just want to say how pleased we are that progress is being made. I hope it provides some measure of comfort to family members.”
The RCMP and Halifax police said they arrested two males at their homes in Halifax at around 8 a.m. and took them into custody where they were being questioned. The Mounties did not release further information on the males arrested, including their ages and what they were arrested for.
“Due to the sensitive nature around this investigation, the investigators do want to ensure that no court process is affected, that there is going to be some privacy concerns around identity, ages and that,” said RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae.
He said police have a 24-hour window to lay charges or release the two males.
Later Thursday, RCMP said they would release more information on the investigation at a news conference at 8 p.m. in Halifax.
Rehtaeh’s family has said the girl felt helpless after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted in November 2011 was passed around her school.
The RCMP said earlier this year that they looked into the allegations of sexual assault and an inappropriate photo but after consulting with the province’s Public Prosecution Service, they concluded there weren’t enough grounds to lay charges.
A week after Rehtaeh’s death, police reopened their investigation, saying they received new information from someone who was willing to work with investigators.
“I feel that the investigation wasn’t handled properly from the beginning and I’ve never seen the file, so I don’t really know why or how that happened,” Leah Parsons said. “I’m just glad that it was reopened and I’m really happy that they have two people to question.”
Canning said he believes Rehtaeh could have been helped had the arrests happened sooner.
“She had no sense of justice right up until the day she died,” he said. “I do believe if this case was taken seriously, she would have felt value as a human being.”
The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service said Thursday evening that Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General was asked to get involved in the case at the time it was reopened.
Spokeswoman Chris Hansen said because Nova Scotia’s prosecution service provided advice to police during the initial investigation, it asked Ontario Crown attorneys to take over to avoid any “real or perceived” conflict.
Hansen said should charges be laid, the Ontario ministry would assume any prosecution in the case.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the ministry, said in an email that it has been providing advice to police during their investigation, but would not comment further.
Rehtaeh’s death sparked national outrage and prompted the Nova Scotia government to launch reviews of the original police investigation into the case and the school board’s handling of the matter. The review of the original investigation is ongoing.
An independent review released in June concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job, but it was hindered by the fact that Rehtaeh was often absent from class. The report also said the Parsons family faced challenges when they turned to Nova Scotia’s mental health system for help.
The arrests come a day after a new law took effect in the province that allows people to sue if they or their children are being cyberbullied. Victims can also seek a protection order that could place restrictions on or help identify the cyberbully.
Justice Minister Ross Landry introduced the legislation weeks after Rehtaeh’s death.