Halifax police arrested two men on Thursday in connection with the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia high school student who committed suicide in April after being cyberbullied for a gang-rape that took place at a party in 2011.
According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, the two men were taken into custody and questioned. Corporal Scott MacRae of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the paper that law enforcement officials had a 24-hour window of time in which they could file charges against the two men. "It's in relation to the Rehtaeh Parsons case, very much so," MacRae told CBS News’ Crimesider.
The Halifax Integrated Sexual Assault Investigation Team released a statement on Thursday confirming the arrests, and saying that, “this morning at 8 a.m., investigators from the Criminal Investigation Division arrested two males at their respective residences.”
Rehtaeh Parsons' death sent shockwaves throughout her community when she was pulled off of life support in April after a suicide attempt. She was 17. In a crime that has been referred to as Canada’s Steubenville, the high school students who allegedly raped Parsons two years before her death also photographed themselves standing alongside an incapacitated Parsons, giving “thumbs-up with a big smile,” the Chronicle Herald reported.
The photo was posted on the Internet and “spread like wildfire” throughout Cole Harbour District High School where Parsons went to school. But an investigation into the assault was initially concluded without any arrests. Police said at the time that they did not have sufficient evidence to proceed with charges.
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The case, which incited outrage in Halifax, seemed to regain momentum a week after Parsons’ death, when the hacktivist collective Anonymous threatened to identify the four culprits. In a statement, Anonymous said that they had launched #OpJustice4Rehtaeh and would expose the men unless Nova Scotia police met their demands of reopening the investigation and “providing justice to Retaeh's family.”
"Anonymous has confirmed the identities of two of the four alleged rapists. We are currently confirming a third, and it is only a matter of time before the fourth is identified as well,” the group wrote. “Our demands are simple: We want the [Nova Scotia Royal Canadian Mounted Police] to take immediate legal action against the individuals in question. We encourage you to act fast. If we were able to locate these boys within two hours; it will not be long before someone else finds them.”
News of the arrests comes one day after Parsons’ father, Glen Canning, published a heartbreaking piece in the Huffington Post chronicling the four months since his daughter’s death. “This is the hardest thing I have ever faced,” Canning wrote. “I'm afraid of what's next. How will I feel if the police don't lay charges? How will I feel if they do? She's gone. She will never know justice.”
After finding out about the arrests, Canning said that he felt simultaneously relieved, and regretful that it had come so late. “My reaction this morning was a little emotional,” Canning said. “In some ways I was extremely relieved and very happy about it. I do believe that the RCMP constable who took over this case put a lot into it, and I’m very appreciative … Another emotion I’m feeling is a little bit of sadness, because it’s a bittersweet announcement … It would have made a difference for Rehtaeh.”
"We're just hopeful there's charges laid and others to arrest, hoping that they're finally willing to tell their side of the story," Parsons’ mother Leah told Metro. "A sense of relief came over me that at least they're going to be questioned."