Two Canadian men charged in connection with suicide victim's alleged cyber-bullying

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order, Social networks

Rehtaeh Parsons. Image courtesy of Jason BarnesTwo 18-year-old Canadian men were arrested on Thursday and have been charged with child abuse images crimes over the alleged cyber-bullying of Rehtaeh Parsons.

Parsons, of Nova Scotia, committed suicide in April at the age of 17 after allegedly being gang-raped by four boys.

A photo of the alleged attack had gone viral, spreading throughout the community and resulting in unremitting harassment, Parsons' mother has said.

According to the BBC, police haven't named the men, since they were juveniles at the time of the alleged attack.

One of the men has been charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography. The other man was charged with one count each of making child pornography and distribution of child pornography.

They will be prosecuted in a juvenile court.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have warned Halifax residents who believe they know who the accused are not to release their identities, on penalty of prosecution, nor to take vigilante action.

As it is, the alleged rapists have already been outed.

One would be excused for assuming that the accused were unmasked by Anonymous, which in October 2012 outed the man whom they said drove 15-year-old Amanda Todd to suicide.

But this time around, it was Parsons' alleged rapists' own family and friends who revealed the boys' identities when they formed an open Facebook group to support them, called "Speak the Truth".

The authorities requested that the page be closed down, given that the posts could be used to identify some of the alleged rapists.

In spite of the presence of the potentially incriminating photo, the RCMP closed their investigation into the attack after a year, citing lack of evidence.

Today, they're hoping that the arrests on child abuse images charges will "help the community to heal," RCMP Chief Superintendent Roland Wells of the Halifax district said in a statement on Thursday evening:

"A young girl has died in what was a tragic set of circumstances. We all need to reflect on how we as a community can come together in Rehtaeh's memory and see what we can do to work together to support our youth."

How to support our youth as they suffer from cyberbullying, even to the point of taking their own lives, is a burning question.

Cyber bully. Image courtesy of ShutterstockCyber-bullying has led to the suicide of a growing list of children.

That list includes Parsons, Todd, 14-year-old Hannah Smith, 15-year-old Amanda Cummings and 15-year-old Audrie Pott.

One of those tragedies has led to outrage over a site,, where children can ask and answer each other's questions - something like Quora, but for children.

Seeking advice about eczema from the site, Hannah Smith was instead hounded for months and hanged herself, told to "drink bleach" and "go die".

These are horrific stories. It's maddening that some of these children seek help and don't receive it.

But outrage too easily turns us into pitchfork-carrying mobs.

Too often, we get a whiff of what we think is a culprit, and it turns us into cyber bullies ourselves.

That's why, for example, Reddit found itself apologizing for enabling a crowd-sourced, virtual lynching of a man suspected of being one of the Boston bombers.

Reddit at the time suggested that instead of plastering the internet with false information, we've got to refrain from the seeming satisfaction of instant journalism and instead turn whatever leads we think we have over to appropriate law enforcement.

This is the time, when two young men have been charged with heinous crimes, to remember that they're innocent until proved guilty.

If we think we know who committed the attack on a girl such as Parsons, or any victim, for that matter, please respect that fundamental assumption of innocence, no matter how convincing the Facebook-posted, implicating photos may seem or the bragging, implicating tweets may read.

Image of arrest and cyber bullying courtesy of Shutterstock. Image of Rehtaeh Parsons courtesy of Jason Barnes.

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8 Responses to Two Canadian men charged in connection with suicide victim's alleged cyber-bullying

  1. That Hannah Smith one might be a little different, actually some of the others ring faint bells too, but with Hannah it would appear that 198 (from 202) of the offensive messages from actually came from her own computer.

    That''s a case of the Internet being blamed for something that actually has nothing to do with the net. She was a mixed up kid, probably bullied everywhere but blame the internet for her death. Not really.

    It's not the first time I've run across that either, as I said some of those other names ring faint bells.. It just can't be the parents fault, so it must be the internet (a lot of the time at least)

    • fedupwithcrapparents · 785 days ago

      Really? Not the parents fault? Why?
      Or rather, how are they not responsible for the values (or lack thereof) imparted to their progeny?
      Leaving the internet to raise your kids is tantamount to child abuse and, in many cases, could be grounds for complicity charges. It is especially horrendous if you then disavow or discount their actions with a shrugged off 'Oh well'.

  2. Michael · 785 days ago

    Of course there would be lots of people that would be horrified by the allegation that you put forward in your post. I am not saying that you are incorrect. I am just saying I have heard nothing of that in the news? and considering that there has been a huge media campaign directed against social networks and bullying that is carried out on them it is (or would be) a significant factor in this case.

    Care to share your source? I am interested to read about that. I believe the truth is more important than a story.

    Thanks in advance Michael

  3. Jack · 785 days ago

    Well, all of our computers show the same IP, if we don't go through the proxy. So maybe one of her siblings or something? Whatever the reason, this is a tragedy and if her friends would have listened (maybe parents?) that would help as most of these are not spur of the moment decisions.

    Why are these kids (?) not tried as adults, they should know by 17 what is bullying? It is also a sign of times, when most of the TV shows (at least in the US) are about people being as*h**les to others. Seinfeld, which was a tremendous hit, I couldn't watch as they always did bad things to others. I did enjoy the last one where they all ended up in jail! Even Seinfeld stated it was bad treatment of others that made the show a hit. How depressing.

    Seems like that's where the entertainment is going, too bad for all of us.


  4. Randy · 785 days ago

    "One of the men has been charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography. The other man was charged with one count each of making child pornography and distribution of child pornography."
    Canada is a very interesting country. Those are the only charges? Apparently distribution of child porn is illegal but rape is not.

    • fedupwithcrapparents · 785 days ago

      Interestingly enough, civil charges can (and should) be pending in all of these instances--in which case, the parents will ultimately (and rightfully) be ponying up for the misdeeds of their offspring and for their own ignorance or complacency.

      As for anonymity--these kids (and their parents) know very well that consequences will seldom be forthcoming or substantial. Hence the 'Oh well' after even the most vile decisions and their aftermath.

      Though not a great fan of vigilante justice, I'm now of the mind it--or the perception/threat of it--may well be the only true remedy, given the limp-wristed laws in this country.

      And please, spare me your indignant cries of "These kids aren't sophisticated enough to know right from wrong". If that is the case, perhaps someone should turn of their TVs, cellphones and video games long enough to enlighten them.

  5. Meg · 784 days ago

    As much as these cases provoke outrage, there seems to be poor understanding of the difficulty of bringing them to court and prosecuting them so that the charges stick. A common thread among all these stories is how much the evidence gets contaminated, either through the uncontrolled nature of social media and gossip, the rogue actions of people not even involved in the incident, as well as the horrendous shaming and bullying that forces victims to withdraw just when their testimony is most crucial. This being a forum for talking security, can we discuss what could have been done to better facilitate the course of justice? It's our job to find and preserve the evidence; should a case like this fall within our jurisdiction, one hopes that we'll be able to do right by the victims.

  6. tayor nichole · 744 days ago

    people need to get it through there head that it was evil to do that to that girl and people only bully because there insicure about them selfs!

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.