Our Zimmerman case

Over two years after she was allegedly raped, and four months after she took her own life, two of Rehtaeh Parsons’s alleged tormentors will appear in court today:

Two young men face child pornography charges today in a high-profile court case connected to Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who was bullied online and then took her own life.

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.

It’s not clear whether the accused will appear in person or if defence lawyers will appear on their behalf.

This CBC report quotes Dalhousie law professor Wayne McKay, and criminal defence lawyer Elizabeth Buckle, who note some of the unusual aspects of this case:

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


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

“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.

If the police really found new evidence that makes a conviction more likely, so be it.  But the similarities between this case and the George Zimmerman trial are disturbing.

In both cases, we have incidents that led to the tragic deaths of promising young people; decisions by the police and/or prosecutors not to law criminal charges; widespread outrage on the internet; blatant interference and pandering by elected politicians; the reopening of investigations by the police; and heavily publicized trials.

Zimmerman, of course, was found not guilty.  Considering the high burden of proof that must be met by the Crown, I will not be at all surprised if both accused in the Parsons case are acquitted as well.

The question is, will the people who wanted criminal charges laid accept such a verdict?

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