Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rehtaeh Parsons, Anonymous and "Justice"

I've really tried to avoid commenting on the big issue that is crowding out HuffPo's headline space over the past week, and that is the tragic case of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia teenager whose life ended last Sunday due to suicide. I'm sure everyone knows the details by now, as its hard to get away from it: we know what has been alleged, we know the story the NS RCMP have given us, we've seen the bumbling of Ross Landry on the file, and we've seen people call for what is best described as "outside help" in shedding some light on the case.

Despite not wanting to comment, I've taken a deep interest in the case now that all of these other issues have become tied in. Especially since Warren Kinsella asked Anonymous to come in (though for some reason, I doubt Anon got the idea from him), as that adds a new wildcard element into what would otherwise be a case of what I'd consider to be negligence on the part of those charged with the responsibility to protect Parsons, or at the very least give her justice.

But, that is kind of a funny word isn't it? "Justice" does not really have a definition one can pin down. Sure, there are definitions, but only because the dictionary demands it so. In reality, the concept of "justice" is one that is more of a floaty concept, one that changes (sometimes drastically) from person to person. What do people really think when we say "justice," or even of the idea that we have a "criminal justice system"? Is "justice" about revenge and punishment, as I've seen of so many commentators on so many websites expound; or is it the more nuanced idea that it is a moral principle based on ethics and conduct, a reflection of what we'd expect in a perfect society that we know we do not have but want to reach for anyways?

What version of "justice" are people like Kinsella asking for when they bring in a group like Anonymous?

Well, I suppose it depends who you ask. Chris Selley of the National Post clearly says that Kinsella and others promoting Anon are playing with fire, and for all the wrong reasons. Selley's point is that:
I understand completely why these stories freak people out. The instinct to protect children from violence and injustice is universal … only it isn’t. When it comes to incidents like this, as Ms. Bazelon writes, “we lose sight of our own standard for giving kids a second chance. Instead, we indulge our primal urge for revenge.” That can’t be healthy.
Revenge isn't good, as it can lead people towards blind conclusions without really thinking about it, says Selley (more or less). He does have a point, whether you like it or not - fueling your "justice" purely off revenge, which is the reaction of quite a lot of these these armchair judges, is unhealthy. We're not a society which bases its laws off of an eye for an eye, we haven't been for generations because we know that, while its a nice thought, revenge doesn't really solve the problem.

The problem with Selley's argument, from my point of view, is that the Rehtaeh Parsons case is so much more than simply about revenge. Kudos to a lot of media because they've somewhat got the point - what failures of our society allowed someone so young and seemingly so strong to commit suicide? Those are the questions that should be asked, because its obvious that Rehtaeh Parsons was far from a lost cause. Something within our society at large failed her, something helped direct her towards a path no one that loved her thought she should take.

So Selley misses the point. He's not necessarily wrong, he's just focusing on the people that have no clue themselves what this case has become about. Comment sections on Facebook, newspapers, and so on are some of the worst places to get your stories from, Chris.

That brings me, of course, to Anonymous and Kinsella's call. Is Kinsella doing what Selley says he is, and pushing for brute revenge? Maybe. I can't tell what Warren Kinsella feels, nor do I really care to. What I can say however is that there is a lot of justification to bring in a group like Anonymous that doesn't require revenge, not in the least.

I'll just be echoing BCL and Dr. Dawg here in a way, but bringing in Anon is possibly the best thing that can happen for this case. The reason why is not because I'm pushing for Selley's brute "vigilante justice," as I'm not really seeking revenge for Rehtaeh Parsons - I'm more interested in seeking "justice." What we've seen so far happen in Cole Harbour is not "justice," its a mockery of it. I'm not saying that the RCMP and the Crown did their jobs poorly, because for all I know they made the right decision within their own context - but there was clearly something wrong even outside of the authorities. The bullying, the picture, the school, the reaction - all of it simply wrong. And there needs to be a reaction to it, and furthermore, some people need to be held accountable.

And what is the best way to get those responsible to act? By creating a storm of popular action, of course. Anon, the petition (which everyone should sign), and the media should be putting the spotlight on the case, so it won't be swept under the rug and Rehtaeh ends up another statistic. There must be action, and that may go so far as to "name and shame" the accused - because if we don't know who or what is involved, in such a central way, to the case, then we'll never get to the bottom of how this tragedy could happen. Nor would we know how to rework the system so we can avoid it happening again.

For all intents and purposes, the gears do seem to be slowly turning. Justice Minister Ross Landry has committed to a review of what went wrong, bringing in all levels of government. That's a good start. Even better, the people of Nova Scotia are taking notice of what their government is going to do about the serious issues raised by this case. Accountability is the new byword. These are concrete results of the people's actions, even Anon's.

Is it "justice," though? I think so. I see action to fix the problems of our society that helped cause the tragedy, so Rehtaeh Parsons' loss will not be a waste. It isn't "revenge" and it isn't "vigilantism," its the idea that our society can and will better itself as we hold our institutions, and our criminals, accountable. Sometimes that requires actions that work outside the system.

People like Selley would say that is vigilante action. Maybe by a very technical definition, but I'm not interested in revenge, I'm interested in justice, in action to better ourselves and our society. So far, I see no one with a good head on their shoulders that thinks differently.

And really, should we be more interested in the actions we take to get justice, or addressing the reasons why those actions must be taken in the first place?


  1. The "Justice" system (if you can call it that) has no remedy for this situation as much of the problem was caused by the 'community'

  2. Here is the article summary/opening from today's star: "A sombre crowd of about 300 people gathered in a Halifax park to reflect on the short life of Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide after an alleged sexual assault and months of bullying."

    Unless you cam bring the bullies to account, you will never have justice, and our current legal system has no method to do so, nor has it even thought of one.

    Until you can bring people to account for their actions - all people - you will never have justice.

  3. It's happened again, this time in the US, to a 15 year old girl.

    So... why are the rapists not being charge with possession and distribution of CHILD PORNOGRAPHY?

    1. sounds like Harper may be thinking the same thing(s) I am.