Nova Scotia

Rehtaeh Parsons' mom, N.S. premier to meet with Harper

Two weeks after going public the story of her daughter's death, Leah Parsons has been offered a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss proposed changes to the Criminal Code.

Meeting to discuss possible Criminal Code changes related to cyberbullying

Leah Parsons says four boys sexually assaulted her daughter when she was 15. She says Rehtaeh was bullied after a photo of the incident was circulated at her school. (CBC)

Two weeks after going public with the story of her daughter’s death following a suicide attempt, Leah Parsons of Nova Scotia will meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss proposed changes to the Criminal Code.

Parsons is scheduled to meet with Harper and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter today.

The death of Rehtaeh Parsons after she was bullied has been reported on around the globe. (Stephen Puddicomb/CBC)

According to Parsons, four boys sexually assaulted her daughter when she was 15. Rehtaeh was then said to have been mocked by classmates, enduring relentless harassment and humiliation after a photo of the attack was circulated at her Cole Harbour, N.S., school and on social media.

On April 7, Rehtaeh was taken off life support after attempting to take her own life a few days earlier. She was 17.

The public outcry over the case prompted the Nova Scotia government to announce a plan for an independent review into both the police investigation and the Crown attorney’s office that advised police not to lay charges in Rehtaeh’s case.

But Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser told the CBC radio show Maritime Noon that policymakers shouldn’t be too hasty coming up with laws "in the heat of the moment."

"We have laws related to sexual assault, we have laws related to people engaging in sexual activity without adequate consent, we have laws related to the possession of child pornography and the dissemination of child pornography. It would seem, at least based on the information that’s out there, that these laws should be applicable in these circumstances," said Fraser.

"But if we have an inquiry that delves into it, that looks into the adequacy of the investigation, the adequacy of the investigative tools that the police have at their disposal, and also the adequacy of the laws — perhaps one of the recommendations will be to tweak things, but I really do hesitate, in the heat of the moment, to come up with new laws that might have unforeseen consequences, particularly when it appears that the laws we have in place right now should be up to the task."

Dexter says new technology needs new laws

Dexter does not share Fraser’s view on existing legislation.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with Leah Parsons to discuss possible changes to the Criminal Code. (CBC)

"I just profoundly disagree," said Dexter. "The simple fact of the matter is that these are new kinds of technology, they give rise to events that society has not dealt with in the past and the only way to drive home that the things that are being done are unacceptable, is to have sanctions that reflect the seriousness that we take these events, these kinds of activities."

Dexter said there’s a need to clarify where federal jurisdiction begins and where provincial jurisdiction ends when it comes to cases involving the use of social media technology.

"We’ll see I guess, from a review of the investigation whether or not there were gaps in that ... but this is another thing that I think we need to talk to the prime minister about — is this whole question of, in a system that overlaps between provincial and federal jurisdiction, how do we ensure in these kinds of emerging technologies, these emerging activities, that there is not a gap in those activities."

He said modern technology is a double-edged sword.

"New technology has many benefits, it creates awareness and understanding and connects people but there is also a dark side to that technology and when it is misused it can cause great harm to people. And the question is, how do we as a society respond to that?" said Dexter.

"We have some proposals that we are advancing. There seems to be an emerging consensus among the provinces and I intend to press the prime minister to move forward on this."

The premier said the province is responsible for administration of justice, "however we can only use the tools that we have," and he said jurisdiction over wireless communication and jurisdiction of the Criminal Code are federal matters.  

Dexter said there is also a need for more specific legislation on the transmission of images of a sexual nature.

"At the time they were taken, there may have been consent to the making of the photograph, it is the transmission of that photograph which is not consensual and of course can do great harm to people," he said.