News

Cyberbullying becomes a national issue in wake of family's 'unending nightmare'

By Sheena Goodyear, Postmedia Network

Rehtaeh Parsons. (Facebook)

Rehtaeh Parsons. (Facebook)

In 2013, Rehtaeh Parsons became the posterchild for Canada's war on cyberbullying.

The Nova Scotia girl's smiling face has appeared next to headline after headline about reports and legislation aimed at protecting young Canadians.

Rehtaeh, 17, was taken off life support in April after she hung herself. Her parents allege she was raped by four boys at 15 and tormented after a lewd image of the attack was shared around town.

Her father, Glen Canning, has since become an anti-bullying advocate in an effort to "bring something positive thing out of this whole mess."

He's worked alongside other families in the same boat, like Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old Port Coquitlam, B.C., girl who posted a YouTube video in 2012 about how she was tormented by her peers when a man leaked her picture after coercing her into exposing herself on webcam. She killed herself soon after.

Todd's story ignited a firestorm of anti-bullying sentiment in Canada, which Rehtaeh's case re-ignited with fervour.

Widespread outrage eventually prompted police to reopen Rehtaeh's case and arrest two boys on child pornography charges, but Canning hopes new federal legislation make it easier for other families to get justice.

Canning thinks Bill C-13, which, among other things, makes it crime to share intimate images of someone without their consent, would have made a big difference in Rehtaeh's case.

Nova Scotia passed its own cyberbullying bill, giving victims the right to sue and seek protection orders.

Other laws have popped up all over the country. Some, like the bylaw in Hanna, Alta., bring down financial penalties for bullies. Others, like Manitoba's Bill 18, give all students the right to create safe spaces, like gay-straight alliances.

Laws passed south of the border, too, after the notorious Steubenville, Ohio, case, where a girl, 16, was dragged from party to party, sexually assaulted, photographed naked and humiliated online for months before any charges were laid.

But changing the laws is only half the battle.

"You can have all conferences and all the legislation you want to, but at the end of the day it'll change when it's socially considered unacceptable," Canning told QMI Agency.

Activist Stephanie Guthrie, who has spoken out against so-called "revenge porn," agrees.

"What we want to do is create a world where if someone is considering bullying someone else, they will ultimately decide not to because they will be the one who is ostracized by their peers and not the person they targeted."

It's a shift Canning is starting to see. While travelling the country to attend anti-bullying events, he's met young people who are fighting for the change.

"These are just kids doing this. Kids doing this to help kids. This is extremely important because it's going to change when the attitude changes. And I think that's going to start with young people."

A Toronto mom told him this year that her 12-year-old son, who'd read about Rehtaeh, spoke out when his buddy laughingly showed him a graphic picture of a girl on his phone. That image was deleted and never shared again — unlike Rehtaeh's.

"Right now that's in the hands of God knows who, that picture, and that never should have happened," Canning said.

While Canning appreciates the broader changes that have happened in Rehtaeh's name, his personal hell goes on.

"It's just an unending nightmare right now."

Poll

Is the government doing enough to combat cyberbullying?


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions