Police arrest two in Rehtaeh Parsons bullying suicide

The Globe and Mail

Rehtaeh Parsons is shown in a handout photo from the Facebook tribute page "Angel Rehtaeh." The RCMP say they have made two arrests in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Halifax girl who was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt in April.

(Facebook/The Canadian Press)

Two men have been arrested in connection with the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

The announcement came four months after her family had complained that the Nova Scotia teenager killed herself after she was gang-raped and a cellphone photo of the alleged assault was circulated among her school peers.

“This morning at 8 a.m., investigators from the Criminal Investigation Division arrested two males at their respective residences,” the Halifax Integrated Sexual Assault Investigation Team said in a statement Thursday morning.

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The two suspects are in custody and being questioned, the statement said.

Investigators have a 24-hour window to file charges following the arrests, said a spokesman, RCMP Corporal Scott MacRae.

Speaking in Saint John where he was touring the Irving Oil refinery, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he hoped the arrests will provide some comfort to Rehtaeh’s family.

“I just want to say how pleased we are to see that progress is being made,” Mr. Harper said.

For months, the case had divided residents of Cole Harbour and Eastern Passages, two neighbouring suburbs of Halifax. Rehtaeh’s family and friends complained that her plight hadn’t been taken seriously. Supporters of her alleged assailants, whose identities were known through the community, complained that they were unfairly vilified. At one point, posters defending her alleged assailants were nailed on utility poles in their neighbourhood.

“All I can say is that it’s about time they were arrested and it’s now their chance to tell `Their side of the story’,” Ms. Parsons wrote Thursday morning on a memorial web page dedicated to her daughter’s memory.

“They complain that its all one sided go ahead and speak, we are all ears!”

Ms. Parsons was notified of the arrests about 10 minutes after they took place and was given the names of the suspects, she told CBC.

Coincidentally, the arrests came a day after the province implemented stricter cyberbullying legislation, which gives victims the ability to sue their tormentors.

The legislation stemmed in part from the public outrage sparked by Rehtaeh’s case.

A 17-year-old girl from Cole Harbour, N.S., Rehtaeh died in hospital in April after a suicide attempt.

Her family says she was raped in November, 2011, when she was 15, by four boys during a party at a friend’s home in the Halifax suburb of Eastern Passage. She was distressed because a cellphone photo of the assault was circulated and the authorities failed to stop the harassment and prosecute the boys, the family alleges.

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.

However, a week after her death unleashed a nationwide uproar, police in Halifax say they had reopened their investigation because someone stepped forward and gave “new and credible information.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday marking the four-month mark since her daughter’s death, Ms. Parsons revealed that she had been raped in similar circumstances when she was 14 and that she had told her daughter about it and cautioned her about situations where there are more boys than girls.

“When Rehtaeh told me what happened to her that November 2011 night, I was immediately transcended right back to my own horror,” she wrote.

She added: “Why me? why my daughter? Not that it should happen to anyone but Why?”