Police in Halifax say they have reopened their investigation in the Rehtaeh Parsons case after someone stepped forward and gave “new and credible information” about the allegations that the Nova Scotia teenager was gang-raped.
The development came one day before her funeral Saturday and after five days of public outrage, calls for action and concerns about vigilante justice.
“We have information from a verifiable person that we can substantiate with more questions,” said RCMP Corporal Scott MacRae, a spokesman for the Halifax Integrated Sexual Assault Investigation Team. “And we’re still appealing to others that may be out there.”
In a statement released Friday afternoon, the joint police squad said a team had been assigned to “review this new information as it relates to the totality of this file.”
Rehtaeh, 17, died in hospital Sunday after she tried to kill herself last week. Her death unleashed a nationwide uproar when her family complained that she had been distraught because authorities failed to file charges and because she was harassed after a photo of the alleged assault was circulated among her school peers.
News of the investigation reopening came as Rehtaeh’s family had been holding a visitation before her funeral Saturday. Her mother’s long-time boyfriend, Jason Barnes, said he was happy that the police probe is resuming but did not wish to comment further.
The hacker group Anonymous previously claimed it has obtained a screenshot of incriminating statements from one of the four teenaged boys allegedly involved in the November, 2011, incident. However, the police said the new information did not come from Anonymous but from an individual who had met with detectives.
“The person providing the information is willing to verify who they are, the reason they’re providing it, and is willing to work with police as part of the investigation,” the police statement said.
The incident is alleged to have taken place at a house in Eastern Passage, near Halifax, and involved Rehtaeh, who was 15 at the time, and four boys. A cellphone photo was circulated among students at her high school in Cole Harbour. Her relatives said they were initially told by police that detectives could not prove who had sent the photo and that the Crown didn’t think they could clinch a prosecution.
Anonymous said it had obtained statements from one boy who said he was in the photo and who identified the other three suspects. “All information, including screenshots of the confession, have been made available to the police,” the group said in a statement.
“This wasn't some high-tech operation that involved extracting private messages from someone's Facebook account. Dozens of e-mails were sent to us by kids and adults alike. … Many recalled confessions made by these boys blatantly in public,” the group said in another statement.
“We are aware of those postings,” Cpl. MacRae said, adding, “We just can’t take reports through social media.”
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson cautioned Friday against vigilantes and said police would only work with the hacker group if “they … take their masks off.”
There was intense pressure on police following Rehtaeh’s death. Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry initially refused to order a review of the case, then reversed his position after the emotional reaction from colleagues and constituents. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he and his wife were “sickened seeing a story like this.”
The Prime Minister said on Thursday that “bullying to me has a kind of connotation of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity. It is youth criminal activity. It is sexual criminal activity. And it is often Internet criminal activity.”