The simple solution to publication ban in Rehtaeh Parsons case

I appreciated the comments from the caller.
When I decided to break the publication ban, I did so despite the fact that some people would accuse me of doing it for publicity reasons. Anybody who thought — or still thinks — that I did this for publicity reasons didn’t think it through.
I am putting myself at risk of being charged with a criminal offence. There is no doubt in my mind that I am breaking the law. My only saving grace is that it is not in the public interest to prosecute me, just as it’s not in the public interest to prosecute the others who have violated the ban. In addition, the police would also have to charge Glen Canning and Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s parents, and that would be a public relations disaster.
If there was so much to be gained from this, why has no other media outlet or journalist in Canada broken the ban? For four months, the opportunity was there and no one took it.
More importantly, there is a simple solution to the publication ban. It doesn’t require Parliament to change this law, which is a good law. It will simply allow people to use Rehtaeh Parsons’ name without restrictions.
The solution, described in my post on Oct. 22, lies with our Attorney General and Justice Minister. Let your MLA know and, more importantly, let a member of Nova Scotia’s Liberal government know what you think about this case.

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Lawyer David Fraser pans publication ban in Rehtaeh Parsons case

David Fraser is absolutely right. It’s time to end this discussion about the publication ban and shift our focus back to the more important discussions we need to have about cyber-bullying, sexual consent, suicide prevention, and accountability for public officials.
Justice might never come for Rehtaeh Parsons, but at least we can use her memory to learn some valuable lessons and help inform some important discussions.

Accused in Rehtaeh Parsons case set free

rehtaeh parsons

The boy who took the picture used to shame Rehtaeh Parsons was set free today and won’t spend a day in jail.

The accused, now 20, pleaded guilty in September to production of child pornography. He took a picture of Rehtaeh Parsons and his co-accused. Parsons was puking out a window while the other boy mugged for the camera and gave a thumbs-up sign. Despite admitting his guilt, he won’t go to jail and will have 12 months to meet certain conditions. If he meets them, he will receive a conditional discharge. He will not be put on probation.

Some will say this is a travesty of justice, but Glen Canning – Rehtaeh’s dad – said there won’t be justice until there are charges of sexual assault in the case.

The most telling moment of today’s sentencing came when Judge Greg Lenehan said the 20-year-old Eastern Shore man who took the picture should have known better and told him to consider what he would have wanted someone else to do if it was his sister being violated while she was puking out the window.

“The image you took is an example of the objectification of girls and women,” Lenehan said to him.

The accused shifted uncomfortably on the bench and looked nervous. Then muscles on his face twitched as he seemed to realize the cruelty of what he did.

Lenehan told him he “should never forget the promising, vibrant young life that was eventually destroyed by his choice to record an act of sexual degradation.”

“You did, in a few seconds, set in motion a series of events that led to a great deal of shame, humiliation, anger, despair, anguish, loss, hurt, and destruction for Ms. Parsons, her family, you, your family, and for the entire community.”

Lenehan told him the moment he captured on camera was “not a trophy moment, but that is certainly what it was portrayed as.”

In the era of cellphones when people seem to document everything, this was not a moment to be documented, the judge said.

Despite the tragic impact of the accused’s actions, Lenehan said he had to take into consideration the prime purpose of Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, which emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The accused, who was 17 at the time of the incident three years ago, has already shown signs of doing that.

“I accept that he is genuinely remorseful. I think he is quite sickened by the realization that his decision eventually led Rehtaeh Parsons to fall into the deep dark hole of despair from which she could not extricate herself. His actions led to a series of events that eventually drained her of her very essence.”

The accused has been suffering from anxiety and insomnia since the death of Rehtaeh Parsons in April 2013. Lenehan said the accused’s confession to police in August 2013 and his guilty plea on Sept. 22 are all factors that bode well for his rehabilitation. He has a full-time job, has not been in trouble with the law since the incident, nor was he ever in trouble with the law before that.

“This is a very difficult sentencing,” Lenehan said. “Nothing I can do can compensate for her tragic loss of life. There is no measure that could ever properly reflect her value.”

Despite the public calls for revenge, he stressed youth court is “not a court of retribution” and so gave the youth a conditional discharge while imposing some conditions. The accused must seek counselling for 12 months, provide a DNA sample, and write an apology to Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents.

“You are also required to locate and attend, successfully complete a course on sexual harassment,” Lenehan said. “It’s vitally important that you understand how you can interact and treat all females as you go forward.”

“I do not want to hamstring you. I do want to encourage you to become a productive member of society. I want you to be the type of young man that if you ever see somebody humiliating or treating a girl or a woman in any fashion that would call into question their dignity or worth, that you would not stand by and be an observer; that you would be the type of person that would say ‘This needs to stop’ and you would stop it.”

The other accused in this case will stand trial on distribution of child pornography charges on Nov. 24. His father was in court watching today’s proceedings.

Believing: it’s important, but only the first step

Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth accuse Jian Ghomeshi of assault and sexual assault.

Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth accuse Jian Ghomeshi of assault and sexual assault. The separate incidents are both alleged to have occurred more than 10 years ago.

Journalists often face tough ethical decisions. To decide what to do, we often follow guidelines or policies – founded on principles. One such principle is that you don’t use anonymous sources unless a person’s life or job is at risk if you identify them.

That’s a good policy and normally I would agree with that. I’m a big believer in saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and putting your name to it. However, in the case of the Jian Ghomeshi allegations, The Toronto Star knew the names of four women they interviewed, but didn’t print them and that was used by some to undermine the credibility of the women. Three women say that the former CBC radio host assaulted them while a fourth accused him of making lewd remarks and groping her.

If it was a 1 vs. 1, the Star probably wouldn’t have gone with the story, despite the reputation Ghomeshi had. But Jesse Brown was willing to investigate the story after getting the first call and got similar stories from four women. Amazingly, Jesse Brown said on Twitter that this story still wasn’t going to run and was dead in the water until Ghomeshi’s now infamous Facebook post on Oct. 26 gave the Star “what it needed to publish.”

That four vs. one justified protecting their identities because it was clearly a story about a pattern that had to be told. When it was told, it became an 8 vs. 1, with someone willing to be identified, then 9 vs. 1, with two willing to be identified, and now we have two women filing a complaint with the police. Do you see how this is trending?

We were at the edge of a cliff, looking across a narrow gorge to another cliff. It was a place we had to get to and the only way to get there was to jump. But no, we have a policy of never jumping off cliffs. You know what policies can be sometimes? Not merely guidelines, but excuses to avoid making important decisions. This is life, there are no absolutes, so saying you always have to follow a policy or a guideline is the easy way out.

Every day, the way we treat other people is an important step in improving the world. But there are times when all of us – not just journalists – are going to be presented with an opportunity to make a greater impact on the society or world we live in. Often, it will present itself as an option between doing the right thing or following a policy.

When faced with that decision, consider the implications and ask yourself these questions. What kind of world do I want? Do I have to chance to make this a better world –– not just for yourself, but for others? Clearly, the status quo needs some improvements. When women like Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth can experience what they went through and don’t come forward because they don’t think their allegations will be taken seriously, our society has a serious problem. A problem that won’t go away if we leave it to others to change. Awareness and moral support are great, but acting when you get a chance to make a difference is what we really need.

Like when reporter Jesse Brown believed that woman. Then three more joined her and were brave enough to share their story with the world.

Now, Toronto police are investigating Ghomeshi.

Radio interview about publication ban

Rick Howe had me on his show this afternoon. I agreed not to mention Rehtaeh Parsons’ name during the interview, but that is the case we are talking about.

If you’d like to listen, here’s a link.

Publication ban is pointless

Canning Parsons

Glen Canning (left) and Leah Parsons have fought to keep their daughter’s name alive.

One of the beauties of being a freelancer is that I don’t have to worry about consulting lawyers or publishers, I can just follow my gut and do what a journalist is supposed to do.

To paraphrase the Mr. Dooley character of American humorist Finley Peter Dunne: It’s the job of journalists to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

Sometimes, you get the opportunity to do both and when those opportunities arise, you must seize them. Yesterday, more than any other day, it was important to use Rehtaeh Parsons’ name.

The guilty plea of one of the accused was validation for her and her family. Any journalist with a sense of public good would recognize that you’d need to link yesterday’s development back to April 2013, when the whole world knew her name and the eyes of the world were on Nova Scotia because of the failure of our justice system to lay any charges.

There was a clear purpose to my post and I’m not content to wait for politicians to change the law. I’m going to point out its flaws, why it needs to be amended, and why it should not apply in this case. I also consulted with Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents – Leah Parsons and Glen Canning — and got a blessing from both of them to break the ban.

Also, reading the judge’s decision from May gave me confidence that it was a pretty safe path if I chose my steps carefully. I was not flouting it just for the sake of flouting it. Former colleague Stephen Kimber, a professor of journalism at King’s College, suggested in a Facebook discussion that “there’s a danger when we start violating bans because we believe it’s wrong in one particular instance.”

“What if another reporter decides to name an alleged rape victim, or a child abuse victim because they think it’s justified. Do we get to decide when the law applies and when it doesn’t? And, given that everyone already knows who the victim is in this case, is it really necessary to break the ban to make the argument it is wrong here, or to write in a way that makes the connections for the reader without specifically naming the victim?”

In this case, I take to heart the comments made by Judge Jamie Campbell when he wrote in his decision: “It’s a ban that everyone wants, just not in this case.”

To see Judge Campbell’s decision, click here.

Clearly, it’s a good law, but it just doesn’t work in this instance. A judge, our director of public prosecutions, and our Attorney General had an opportunity to fix that, but none took the opportunities available to them for various reasons. You say that “everyone” knows her name, but I think that only those closely connected to the case would make the crucial connection if not for the efforts of the victim’s parents — Glen Canning and Leah Parsons — who have been breaking the ban.

I’m not claiming the right for me or any other journalist to decide when the law applies and when it doesn’t. But remember, both of Rehtaeh’s parents opposed the ban and the Crown fought it, too. Also, when the Crown reviews a complaint — if there is one — they will consider the intent of Parliament in drafting the law, the wishes of the parents, and whether the public interest is served in prosecuting.

Precisely the things that I considered before writing the post.

Sage advice from Henry Ford

One of things I’ve never enjoyed doing as an employee was promoting myself; and because I didn’t enjoy doing it, I was never very good at it.

Now that I am in business for myself, I have no choice. Some say nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline, but making the mortgage payment and feeding six kids sure does. Trust me, I’ve faced both challenges.

As much as I enjoy the freedom of being my own boss, I have had to learn to continuously promote myself to generate cash flow. This blog is part of that and I’m always looking for opportunities to get my name out there, sometimes for free, and sometimes for a fee; it’s just something that I have to do now.

As Henry Ford once told his dealers, the secret to success is thus:

Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.

That quote has since been attributed to Ted Turner and Peter J. Laurence, and some internet sites will tell you they coined the phrase. However, as a wise man named Abraham Lincoln once said:

The trouble with quotes on the internet is you never know if they are genuine.

How can we be sure, then, that Ford coined the phrase in the first place? Well, a reference to a printed source always helps. See here.

Regardless of who said it, though, it’s good advice.