HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – Two young men were arrested in the cyberbullying case of a 17-year-old Canadian girl who killed herself after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted circulated online. They were charged with distributing child pornography almost two years after the alleged assault.
Rehtaeh Parsons, who died after being removed from life support following a suicide attempt in April, led to an outcry across North America. Police initially concluded there were no grounds to charge anyone after a yearlong investigation.
Her mother said a boy took a photo of the alleged assault in November 2011 and that her daughter was bullied for months after it went viral.
On Thursday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chief Supt. Roland Wells said one man, 18, was charged with two counts of distributing child pornography and the second man, also 18, was charged with making child pornography and distributing it. Wells said the two are not being identified because they were minors when the alleged crimes occurred.
Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said the available evidence did not meet the threshold for sexual assault charges against the two individuals. Blais said police also consulted with prosecutors and said there wasn't sufficient evidence for sexual assault charges.
Police announced the arrests earlier Thursday and the two were brought in for questioning.
Police in April said a person provided new information in the Parsons case and was willing to verify who the suspects are.
Earlier in the day, Rehtaeh's parents said news of the arrests brought them some solace, though the girl's father expressed disappointment that his daughter never saw justice served in her short life.
"She's dead now. She's gone," Glen Canning said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauded the progress in the case 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 15-year-old California girl Audrie Pott, who hanged herself after her family says she was sexually assaulted by friends and a photo surfaced online. Arrests were made in that case.
In Canada, the issue of bullying was thrust into the public eye last year after the suicide of British Columbia teen Amanda Todd, who made a video about bullying and cyber-stalking that was seen around the world.
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 charges come a day after a new law took effect in the province that allows people to sue if they or their children are being cyber bullied. 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.
Both accused are due in youth court next Thursday.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto.