Canadian Newspaper Under Investigation For Violating Ban On Publishing Names Of Child Pornography Victims
from the where-good-intentions-meet-the-friction-of-real-life dept
A Canadian newspaper is under investigation for violating a court-ordered ban on publishing the names of child pornography victims. The Chronicle Herald covered the sentencing of a young man on child pornography distribution charges but included the name of his victim, Rehtaeh Parsons.
Rehtaeh Parsons was 15 when the then-17-year-old young man sent a photo of him having sex with her to two other females. Parsons was apparently unaware she was being sexually assaulted. The photo showed not only the young man’s actions, but her vomiting out a window.
The subsequent distribution of these photos, along with additional harassment from both the participants and Parsons’ peers, eventually led to her suicide. Her suicide then prompted Nova Scotia’s legislators to enact an extremely unfortunate cyberbullying law in late 2013, nearly two years after the incident and four months after Parsons took her own life.
In May of 2014, the legally-ordained ban was upheld, forbidding anyone or any media entity from publishing Parsons’ name, despite objections from Rehtaeh’s parents, who were actively seeking an exception from this part of Canada’s child pornography laws. But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had decided to pursue child pornography charges rather than sexual assault charges and the resulting indictments dragged Retaeh’s name under the cover of this ban.
The Chronicle Herald’s story on the guilty plea entered by of one of the two perpetrators (whose names are still being withheld because they were minors at the time) leads off with this editor’s note:
We’ve decided to publish the name of the victim in this story, despite a court-ordered ban. We believe it’s in the public interest in this unique case, given the widespread recognition of Rehtaeh Parsons’ name, and given the good that can come, and has already come, from free public debate over sexual consent and the other elements of her story.
Rehtaeh’s parents want her name printed, and Judge Jamie Campbell, who upheld the publication ban, wrote in his decision that “the ban serves no purpose,” though he had no choice but to uphold it. Waiving Rehtaeh’s privacy rights “would be a good thing, if it could be done just for this case, just this once,” the judge wrote.
It is difficult for readers to follow a news story when the name associated with it is omitted, and we want to inform Nova Scotians of the outcome of this legal case. We would like to reassure other crime victims that their own court-ordered privacy rights will be respected as always.
As is noted here, Parsons’ parents fought to keep her from being “forgotten” by this ban, but to no avail. The Parsons’ have given their blanket permission for publication, but that has had no effect on whatever sort of busybody it is that reads this disclaimer and still files a complaint. An accompanying story notes that the Chronicle Herald is being investigated by local law enforcement.
Police have launched an investigation into a possible breach of a publication ban after a major news outlet in Halifax published the name of a teenage girl at the centre of a high-profile child pornography case.
Const. Pierre Bourdages said Tuesday that they had received several reports from citizens complaining about the use of the girl’s name, which is subject to a publication ban under the Criminal Code.
“There’s already been a number of complaints filed with the department in relation to this article,” he said.
“There’s an alleged breach of the publication ban … so we have an investigation ongoing now.”
Now, it would seem that the only party with any true claim over Parsons’ name would be her parents, but apparently, certain members of the public feel otherwise. The good news is that this isn’t the police’s first run-in with the publication ban and they seem to be handling other cases in a responsible manner using context and common sense, rather than blindly asserting that “The law is the law” and punishing those who violate the letter, rather than the spirit.
“Investigators considered whether the victim’s name was used in connection with the child pornography charges as well as the overall context in which her name was used,” police said in a statement.
Based on that and consultation with the Crown, charges were not laid, police said.
Even the prosecutor seems uninterested in laying charges just to be laying charges.
Chris Hansen of the province’s Public Prosecution Service said they consulted police in the seven previous instances, but concluded that there was either not a likely chance of conviction or that if there was, it was not in the public interest to pursue it.
She said they considered several factors, including the past publicity and widespread publication of her name, the wishes of her family to have her name published and the possibility that it would facilitate public debate on a “serious societal issue.”
It’s refreshing to see this recognition that the law isn’t always binary. The Parsons’ have repeatedly stated they don’t want their daughter’s name removed from additional coverage of this case. The judge upholding the ban also noted that exceptions were needed but wasn’t something that could be handled from the court’s end. Meddling citizens with no actual stake in the matter may be trying to make things more difficult for the press by complaining about ban violations, but so far it appears they won’t be receiving any help from those actually charged with enforcing the law.