HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s attorney general says no one will be prosecuted for identifying Rehtaeh Parsons as the victim in a recent high-profile child pornography case unless her name is used in a derogatory manner.
A judge placed the mandatory ban on Parsons’ identity in May in the case of two young men who were charged with child pornography offences.
Last month, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald identified Parsons as the victim in the case when one of the young men pleaded guilty in youth court.
He will be sentenced in January for distributing a sexually graphic image of the 15-year-old girl, who died last year following a suicide attempt.
The other young man was given a conditional discharge for making child pornography.
Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab says the directive to Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service says no breach of the ban identifying Parsons as the victim in the case by the media or in any forum will be prosecuted, unless her name is used in a derogatory way.
The judge in the case had noted in May after he brought in the ban that the Criminal Code required him to implement it but he also said the Crown prosecution service could decide not to prosecute if it was broken. That route wasn’t taken until Diab’s directive was issued Wednesday.
Diab said a number of factors were weighed in making her decision.
“This decision wasn’t made lightly,” she said in a statement. “I carefully considered the original intent of the law to protect victims, and I listened to the views of Rehtaeh’s parents, supporters, legal experts and Nova Scotians. This directive strikes the right balance.”
Both of Parsons’ parents opposed the ban. Her father, Glen Canning, often wore T-shirts bearing her name in court.
Canning said he believes the decision by the Chronicle-Herald to publish his daughter’s name tipped the balance.
“I guess in the end, it (the newspaper’s decision to publish the name) made the ban look a little bit ridiculous,” he added.
“It’s like a dark cloud was just lifted and here it is in black and white. It’s kind of what we wanted, the way the minister released this and worded it was perfect.”
Canning said the ban shut down debate on the issues surrounding the case.
“It was such a grey area that Rehtaeh’s friends were afraid to say her name on Facebook,” he said in an interview.
“It almost feels like I got her name back. We can attach her name again to this conversation and that’s just fantastic.”
Police have investigated a number of complaints since the ban was imposed and have not laid any charges.
The director of public prosecutions said the directive clarifies the approach his office should take and he described the situation as unusual, given the judge’s comments about the ban and the calls from Parsons’ parents for it to be lifted.
When deciding whether to prosecute alleged breaches of the ban, those factors were used in deciding what course to take, Martin Herschorn said.
“Those were unique public interest factors that guided the position of the Crown then and this directive provides additional clarity,” he said in an interview.
It was also understood that the ban was having a chilling effect on public discussions about important issues affecting teenagers, Herschorn said.
“We didn’t want the criminal justice system to be an obstacle to those discussions,” he said.
Herschorn said it wasn’t a decision by any media outlet to publish Parsons’ name that led to the directive, saying: “It was the widespread confusion about the potential for being prosecuted for a breach of this mandatory ban that gave rise to today’s directive, I’d say.”
Halifax Regional Police said they will review current and future complaints in light of the directive from the minister. Those cases will be closed unless it is determined in consultation with the public prosecution service that Parsons’ name has been used in a derogatory way.