Sexting advocate claims injustice in Rehtaeh Parsons case – despite guilty pleas

A screen capture of a comment Parker Donham made on Facebook about the child pornography charges -- after the first of two guilty pleas.

A screen capture of a comment Parker Donham made on Facebook about the child pornography charges — after the first of two guilty pleas. On Monday, a second boy pleaded guilty to distributing the photo that was used to shame and bully Rehtaeh Parsons.

Sexting advocate Parker Donham says an injustice has been committed against the two boys who pleaded guilty in the Rehtaeh Parsons case and is using the publicity around the case to champion for changes to an “overly broad law.”

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? No, I’m not kidding you, it’s true. I might be guilty of putting a little spin on that lede, but it’s exactly what Parker does. If anyone tells you a journalist does not put spin on their copy, don’t believe them. Parker does and he takes spin to Spinal Tap levels.

Don’t take my word for it, go read Parker’s blog titled Moral Panic Makes Bad Law.

In promoting his blog on Facebook, Parker suggests that the court cases in which two boys pleaded guilty involved “a trumped up charge to appease media demands that the boys be punished.”

One might think Parker is just following the advice of the late great George Carlin to “question everything.” If you’re an adherent to that philosophy, you should also question Parker, especially because he is prone to making erroneous assumptions in addition to applying copious amounts of spin to his arguments.

Exhibit 1: He assumes there is no evidence to support sexual assault charges when the agreed statement of facts read in court suggest otherwise. He was not in court either day and seemingly is not aware of these agreed statements of fact. These facts might not convict, but there is other evidence available, and more could have been obtained by police if they simply did their job properly.

Exhibit 2: In his blog, Parker writes that child pornography law is a result of “moral panic” that is leading to “a flurry of child pornography charges against youngsters guilty only of entirely consensual sexting.”

When making that claim, Parker links to this post about a case in British Columbia.

On a more careful examination of the case Parker cites, we realize that while the sexting might have been consensual originally, the criminal charges arose from actions that took place after a relationship ended and could in no way be described as consensual.

For a more accurate description of that case read this. Parker didn’t link to that, or provide more details, because it doesn’t fit his narrative. He is constructing a paper dragon and the only valid argument he is making is that what happened in the Rehtaeh Parsons case does not fit the definition of child pornography that most of us have come to understand.

Of course it is not “child porn” according to that definition, but don’t get sidetracked by our contrarian crusader’s argument. Consider these key points instead:

  1. What the boys did fits the legal definition of child pornography as set down by Parliament. A judge has ruled thus on two occasions. For someone so concerned about the rule of law, Parker should give this more credence. If he doesn’t like these rulings, he should ask Parliament to change the name of the law. Remember, Parker has said what the boys did was “disgraceful and reprehensible.” Presumably, he also thinks it should be prohibited by law as he has said he would have even supported voyeurism charges under Section 162 of the Criminal Code. As best as I can tell, Parker’s only valid objection is the labelling of the crime. This is hardly something that supports an assertion that in “injustice” has been done.
  2. The facts known to police would support laying at least one charge of sexual assault, perhaps two, with a reasonable likelihood of conviction. If you don’t know what this evidence is, open your eyes and keep an open mind. “There are two sides to every story” is something we keep hearing in this case. The truth is somewhere in between the two sides — but not in the middle. That’s because some people simply don’t understand the laws concerning sexual consent in this country. This is the discussion we should be having. It is of monumental importance.
  3. Additionally, this information should have been used by police to elicit more evidence to support those charges, and perhaps others, but the police investigation was woefully inadequate and misdirected, according to Leah Parsons and Glen Canning. Their complaints have sufficient merit that it has prompted the province to hire Murray Segal, the former Deputy Attorney General and Chief Prosecutor of Ontario, to review the way the police and the Public Prosecution Service handled the case. Segal’s review is on hold, but will resume when these criminal proceedings conclude in January.
  4. Whatever legitimate concerns Parker might have about sexting being criminalized pale in comparison to the more pressing concerns this case is about: cyber-bullying, sexual consent, and suicide prevention. Furthermore, to bring them up in connection with this case and suggest that an injustice has been done against the boys is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen an intelligent person write.
  5. The police, prosecutors and judiciary in this province do not do anything to “appease an enraged public and media.” They do their job and when they fail, they can enrage the public and media which prompts them to actually do their job. That is why we have freedom of the press, to hold our public officials accountable. We don’t have freedom of the press to conscript them into lynch mobs and that is certainly not what happened here. If the police and Crown laid a charge to appease an “enraged press and public,” it makes no sense that they would lay a charge that would automatically invoke a publication ban when another law, voyeurism, was available to them. A more likely motive for the “child porn” charge is that there would be a statutory publication ban – not one that would leave a judge with some discretion. This creates a disconnect from the court proceedings to the handling of the case between November 2011 and April 2013 – the handling that will be under review. The media and public would most certainly have preferred a voyeurism charge so that Rehtaeh Parsons’ name could be published without restriction.

Sometimes, being a contrarian is a good thing. We need contrarians because they challenge us to think and question the zeitgeist. However, this is a cautionary tale about how being a knee-jerk contrarian can put you far out on a ledge — in an untenable position maintained only by stubbornness, not reason.

In a parting cheap shot at journalists who are doing their job and ensuring that public officials are held accountable, Parker writes in his Facebook teaser for the blog post: “This is not the Nova Scotia news media’s finest hour” and refers to some as “journocutors.”

Not our finest hour? Parker, none of us claims to be as perfect as you, but at least we are not creating a distraction from the more important discussions that actually pertain to this case.

If there is fault here, it is with you for creating this attention-seeking distraction. Most importantly, though, the fault lies with the public institutions that failed Rehtaeh Parsons, and not with the media and the public that is seeking justice.

Now, let’s get back to our more important discussions.

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Barbara Amiel column an embarrassment to journalism

In modern parlance, Barbara Amiel is a troll. Fear not, I am not making an ad hominem — she does not look like one of Tolkien’s trolls — but her latest column in Maclean’s is the latest in a litany of off-the-cuff scribbles penned merely to elicit shock from those who can stomach her prose.

Titled Landmines in Our Sexual Landscape, the column is a vain attempt to prove that you can shine shit, but she fails in that regard. If she continues to write columns for Maclean’s — and I predict she will — it’s proof that the well-connected Amiel can write whatever the hell she wants just to get a reaction. Not only are her comments insensitive to the victims of sexual assault, child pornography and sexual harassment, they reek of a juvenile attempt to poke a stick at what she perceives to be a hypocritical zeitgeist. If she thinks that we need to have a “Come to Jesus” debate and reconcile state-funded abortions with modern society’s so-called heavy hand on rape, child porn and groping, she would be better served if she didn’t belittle the victims of those three crimes.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are protected in the Constitution, but in availing oneself of these rights, one must endeavour to use them responsibly. Barbara Amiel has been given a tremendous privilege to write for a national magazine and by writing as she does, she is squandering that privilege by trying to spark reactions, rather than encourage debate or enlighten a discussion.

A maestro in our midst

An old acquaintance of mine told me a funny story once about how she “discovered” Harry Connick, Jr.

She was in a bar in Connick’s hometown of New Orleans and listening to him perform. She was mightily impressed and told him so after his song was over – something she could do in the intimate setting of the bar they were in.

“Hey, you’re pretty good,” she told him, not realizing who he was. She had heard of Connick, but didn’t recognize the man who had already won a Grammy Award for best jazz male vocal performance thanks to his work on the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack.

Connick was gracious and said “thank you” but someone – perhaps a friendly bartender – pointed out to her who he was. She was sheepish, but not so much that she didn’t delight in telling the story when she returned to Nova Scotia.

Sometimes, you see somebody perform and you feel like your discovery is the world’s discovery.

So it was with me and the first time I watched Dinuk Wijeratne conduct the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra.

While I didn’t approach Wijeratne or the orchestra to say “Hey, you’re pretty good,” I did decide to write about them for Halifax Magazine; that article will appear in the magazine’s April issue.

The more I researched Wijeratne’s background, the more I realized what a virtuoso he is. It was his work as a conductor that prompted me to write about him, but his talents are more diverse than that.

We are fortunate to have him plying his craft here in Nova Scotia. If you haven’t watched him play the piano, conduct, or seen one of his compositions brought to life off the page, then you must change that.

To get a sense of Wijeratne and what he and the NSYO can do, watch this video.

Now, go “discover” him like I did. The NSYO and Symphony Nova Scotia will be performing a joint concert at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Feb. 17.

Wilderbeats know how to connect with kids

The Wilderbeats in concert at The Music Room in Halifax while recording a promotional video.

I made my debut for Halifax Magazine in their June issue with my article and photo spread on The Wilderbeats, a children’s band from Halifax. (See story here.) My kids are big fans of the group and watching them in concert and interviewing them provided me with some insight on why kids and grownups who listen to their music love it so much.

The three members of The Wilderbeats — past and present — have two important things in common.

  1. They love connecting with kids during a performance, and;
  2. Their catchy music has a clever way of educating people about nature.

The first reason is why they have dedicated so much time to the genre despite the difficulties children’s musicians face achieving commercial success. The latter is why their music is so noteworthy and not only deserves to be famous, but should be.

For Ashley Moffat, who started The Wilderbeats in 2001 with Joyce Saunders, her personality doesn’t change when she’s on stage. She treats kids the same way she would treat an adult and that’s likely because she admits to having a little bit of kid in her.

“They’re just my buddies, I don’t talk down to them,” she said during an interview for the feature article in the June issue of Halifax Magazine.

Audience participation is a key ingredient in any Wilderbeats performance and part of why they love performing for kids says Shannon Lynch, who replaced Moffatt as Saunders’s sidekick in 2009.

“How boring can you get if you don’t want to children to join in,” Lynch says. “They just want to mimic, they want to be part of it. Kids are the greatest audience ever because they don’t lie to you. If they don’t like what’s going on, they will just shut down. It’s amazing, as a performer, to have a clear read on your audience.”

When Moffatt is writing music, she looks for inspiration in nature and while she often sings about Canadian wildlife, she admits some creatures catch her fancy from afar. One such song would be Clickety Clack, I’m a Yak.

“I come across things that I think are cool,” Moffat said. I put it in a song and try to make it fun.”

Fun indeed; I’ll forever remember my three-year old coming into our kitchen while that song was playing and hopping and bopping to the tune.

For Saunders and Lynch, their love of nature — and sharing that with kids — comes out in their music.

“We have a really deep appreciation of the Earth and all of the different creatures,” said Lynch. “We can share that with children and hopefully, cultivate, instill and inspire an appreciation and an excitement on their part about some of that immense beauty.”

Lynch has teased Saunders about her song Himalaya, Home of Snow because it’s a bit too “chewy” or technical. It’s a beautiful song, though, and teaches kids a great deal about the world’s greatest mountain range.

Saunders takes the ribbing good-naturedly, but adds “kids are way more intelligent than we are in many ways. There’s a certain age where kids like to know stuff. They really want to know the big words or how things work.”

Athletes and brain injuries

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first article for a national magazine.

I wrote a Science of Sport feature for Sportsnet Magazine on a new medical device called the Halifax Consciousness Scanner. Basically, it’s a brain scanner that measures how well your brain is functioning.

There are many athletes suffering concussions, especially hockey players, but there are none more famous than Sidney Crosby. What happened to Crosby is an example of why there needs to be a profound shift in the way brain injuries are diagnosed in sport.

On Jan. 1, 2011, Crosby collided with David Steckel of the Washington Capitals late in the second period of the Winter Classic. He was woozy as he skated to bench and missed the rest of the second period. Presumably, he was examined during the second intermission and NHL.com reported that he “toughed it out” and returned to play in the third period.

On Jan. 5, in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, opposing defenceman Victor Hedman hit Crosby from behind and Crosby’s head struck the plexiglass. Hedman was penalized and — astoundingly — Crosby was out on the ensuing power play and did not miss a shift in the third period.

As Dr. Ryan D’Arcy suggests in the story, a player’s brain function is altered after a blow to the head. Although they might not have a concussion, they have an injury that requires healing. A second hit, compounded with the first, can cause a more serious injury than either would have on its own.

Many believe this is what happened to Crosby. In two consecutive games — five days apart — Crosby suffered two blows to the head and was not taken off the ice because trainers had to rely on a crude behavioural test known as the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Studies have shown that the GCS can fail to detect a concussion 43 per cent of the time. Considering such a high failure rate for a major brain injury, one can’t help but wonder how poorly it detects more subtle brain injuries.

After the second hit, the all-star centre missed a combined 101 games and some wondered if his career was over. Players, teams, and the league need to take a close look at the potential of the Halifax Consciousness Scanner as it goes through clinical trials.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece. I learned a great deal researching it and I loved the challenge of having to write a complex story in just 450 words.

Click here to read the story.