Two young men appeared in youth court on Thursday to face child pornography charges in a high-profile court case connected to Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who was bullied online and then took her own life, but her family says they don't think justice can prevail.

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.

On Thursday they waived the reading of the charges.

One of the teens arrived in court flanked by both his parents. The other, represented by Josh Arnold, was supported by his mother.

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Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, died after trying to kill herself in April. Her parents claim she was raped by four boys at a party a year and a half ago, and then a picture of the attack was circulated at her school and on social media. (Facebook)

 

Arnold said his client's release conditions were updated so he can leave the province as long as he alerts officials 24 hours beforehand. He also has to report to them when he comes back into Nova Scotia. Arnold would not say why.

Both teens will be back in court on Sept. 19 to discuss disclosure.

Michael Parsons, Rehtaeh's uncle, was in court for their appearance Thursday.

"I have to pray for these boys. I have to pray for them to become good men. That's the hardest thing for me to do. But it's something I have to do. That's what's hard. If you want to know the truth that's the hardest thing to do," he said.

"I have absolutely no faith in the RCMP or the Halifax city police or the Crown prosecutors because they totally dropped this case, they totally dropped the ball."

Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the chair of the province’s task force on cyber bullying, 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

Supporters protested outside the courthouse carrying signs reading "Justice for Rehtaeh Parsons."

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.

Arnold said now that the case is before youth court he believes his client will get a fair trial.

"Likely this is a matter that's going to be heard by a judge alone, not a judge and a jury, and I don't have any concerns that a judge in Nova Scotia won't be able to conduct the matter fairly because of media reporting," he said.

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

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Rehtaeh Parsons's supporters gather outside the courthouse on Thursday. There was an overwhelming public reaction to the Rehtaeh Parsons case with people questioning why there were no charges laid in the case. (Steph Clattenburg/CBC)

"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.