Halifax, Nova Scotia • Police in Canada said Thursday they have made two arrests in the cyberbullying case of a 17-year-old who died after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was shared online.
The death of Rehtaeh Parsons, who was taken off life support after a suicide attempt in April, led to an outcry. Police initially concluded there were no grounds to charge anyone after a year-long investigation.
Her mother said a boy took a photo of the alleged assault in 2011 and that her daughter was bullied for months after it went viral.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Scott MacRae said they arrested two males Thursday. Investigators said they were being questioned and no further information would be released at this time. MacRae declined to say what they were arrested for or whether charges are expected.
“Due to the sensitive nature around this investigation, the investigators do want to ensure that no court process is affected,” MacRae said.
He noted that police have a 24-hour window to either release the two males or lay criminal charges.
Police in April said a person provided new information in the Parsons case and was willing to verify who the suspects are.
“We’re just hopeful there’s charges laid and others to arrest, hoping that they’re finally willing to tell their side of the story,” Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, said.
“A sense of relief came over me that at least they’re going to be questioned.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauded the arrests and said Rehtaeh’s death was a terrible tragedy that touched people across Canada.
“I just want to say how pleased we are that progress has been made. I hope this will provide some measure of comfort to family members,” Harper said.
Rehtaeh’s death has been compared to similar cases in the United States, including a 15-year-old California girl who killed herself after her family says she was sexually assaulted by friends and a photo surfaced online. Arrests were made in that case of Audrie Pott, who hanged herself in September.
Rehtaeh’s death prompted the Nova Scotia government to launch reviews of the RCMP’s original investigation and the school board’s handling of the matter. The review of the RCMP’s investigation is ongoing.
An independent review released in June concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job, but it was hindered by the fact that Rehtaeh was often absent from class. The report also said the Parsons family faced challenges when they turned to Nova Scotia’s mental health system for help.
The arrests come a day after a new law took effect in the province that allows people to sue if they or their children are being cyberbullied. Victims also can seek a protection order that could place restrictions on or help identify the cyberbully.
Justice Minister Ross Landry introduced the legislation weeks after Rehtaeh’s death.