Nova Scotia

Rehtaeh Parsons yelled during alleged strip-search, say witnesses

Witnesses say they heard Rehtaeh Parsons yelling during an alleged strip-search while she was being treated for depression and suicidal thoughts at a Halifax hospital last year.

IWK hospital denies Halifax teen strip-searched by male staff on mental health ward

Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, was taken off life-support on April 17 after trying to take her own life a few days earlier. (Facebook)

Witnesses say they heard Rehtaeh Parsons yelling during an alleged strip-search while she was being treated for depression and suicidal thoughts at a Halifax hospital last year.

Rehtaeh took her own life earlier this year when she was 17 years old. Her family alleges she was sexually assaulted by several boys at a party when she was 15 and a photo of the incident was circulated online. Her family said she was bullied for months, and the relentless taunting led to her death.

Supporters of the boys accused by Rehtaeh's parents of taking part in the alleged assault deny the teen was raped. 

Glen Canning, Rehtaeh’s father, told CBC News that in March 2012, his daughter was suicidal, and he took her to the emergency department. She was admitted to 4-South, the mental health unit.

He said his daughter was strip-searched by two male workers who were looking for a razor. Canning said no razor was found.

Two witnesses who were at 4-South when Rehtaeh was admitted reported hearing the teen yelling.

Former patient Bethanney Hand was one of those witnesses.

She said she heard Rehtaeh yell, "Give me my clothes back, please, I just want to wear my clothes."

Hand said the lack of response to her request made Rehtaeh even more upset.

Another patient, who CBC News has agreed not to name, said she also remembers Rehtaeh yelling that night.

"At one point she said, ‘Give me back my … clothes. The nurse must have said something to her because she responded again saying, ‘What am I gonna hang myself with a thong?’"

Last Friday the health centre said it couldn't comment on Rehtaeh's specific treatment for privacy reasons.

In an email, the IWK said in extreme circumstances, clothing is removed from patients who are at a severely high risk of using their clothing to harm themselves.

But by midday Saturday, the IWK issued a release that said the teen "was not stripped nor strip-searched by two men while in our care."

The hospital said it stands by that earlier statement that Rehtaeh was not strip-searched while at the hospital.

Another young woman, who CBC News has also agreed not to name, said a similar thing happened to her while she was a patient on the unit four years ago.

That woman said it may come down to a difference in terminology.

"Strip-searches do happen. If you’ve been on a pass and you come back to the unit, they need to make sure you don’t have anything on you. This wasn't a search, this was just stripped and left," she said.

The woman said although she doesn't agree with staff removing her clothing during her stay, she does credit the IWK mental health unit's overall treatment in her case with helping her overcome her personal problems. She said both male and female staff were present during her search.

Hand said she spoke to Rehtaeh about the incident.

"[She] told me how two men came, they were stripping her of her clothes and she felt violated," she said.