Former Ontario official to review Nova Scotia justice system in Parsons case

HALIFAX – A former chief prosecutor in Ontario who is reviewing the Rehtaeh Parsons case says understanding the role technology played before the teenager died after attempting suicide will be critical in improving how Nova Scotia’s justice system handles similar cases in the future.

Murray Segal was appointed Monday by the Nova Scotia government to conduct a review of the initial investigation into Parsons’ case by police and the provincial Public Prosecution Service.

As part of the review, Segal said he’ll consider the impact technology is having on young people and their families, as well as their interaction with the justice system and police.

“I think that’s one of the critical pieces,” Segal said Monday via telephone from Toronto at a news conference in Halifax.

“I think a lot of people are struggling with the impact of technology on young people and their families and I’m hoping to learn more about that and make recommendations that may improve the justice system.”

Parsons was 17 when she was taken off life-support after attempting suicide in April. Her case was later reopened after police said they received new information.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry said adapting to ever-changing technology has been a challenge in the justice system and Segal’s review will generate a “wealth of information” that can be applied to future cases.

“To accommodate those changes takes wide dialogue,” said Landry. “I’m looking from this review to give us some insight on how best to move forward in not only this case but in other cases.”

Landry said his department is ready to make changes to the justice system.

“Our overall goal and objective here is to improve, not defend the status quo, but (ask) how do we improve the way we look at these issues of cyberbullying?” said Landry.

Segal’s review is expected to cost $200,000 and he has until April 1 to file his final report. The government says it will later be made public.

Parsons’ family alleges she was sexually assaulted by four boys in November 2011. They say the teen was then bullied for months after a digital photo of the alleged assault was passed around her school in Halifax.

Two 18-year-old men are due in court Thursday to face child pornography-related charges after they were arrested last week.

Segal, a former deputy attorney general in Ontario, has also been asked to determine whether the time it took to conduct the police investigation in the Parsons case was appropriate. If he decides it wasn’t, he has been asked how investigations can be handled more quickly.

The terms of reference for Segal’s review include looking at whether the police investigation of Parsons’ complaint complied with training, policies and procedures that were in place at the time. It will also determine whether police training, policies and guidelines used to investigate allegations of sexual assault, child pornography and other offences related to cyberbullying are adequate.

As well, Segal has been asked to look at whether the advice given to police by the Public Prosecution Service complied with appropriate training, policies, procedures and guidelines, and determine whether they are adequate.

Segal said he plans to speak with everyone involved in the initial investigation from the Public Prosecution Service and police, and will also contact members of Parsons’ family.

The review by Segal is the latest in a series of studies that have been commissioned by the government since Parsons died. An independent review released in June concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job handling her case, 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, which prompted a separate review of mental health programs and policies at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

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