2. Fighting the Ban

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On April 30, 2014, Judge Campbell ordered a mandatory publication ban on Rehtaeh’s identity under section 486.4(3) of the Criminal Code. [1] While the accused were charged in August of the previous year, they had not yet entered their pleas. [2] As such, Canadian media, including the Chronicle Herald, had published her name in connection to the trial and its many delays. Moving forward, however, identifying information could no longer be published.

For Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning, the ban came too late. It was not put in place when it really mattered, said Canning, when his daughter was alive and suffering from abuse at school. [3]

“My first thoughts were it was a sick joke,” Canning wrote in an email. “It was so little and so late I was insulted and felt sick. I know she would have been outraged by the ban.” [4]

Concerned that their daughter’s voice was being silenced, Canning and Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons, supported an application by local media to appeal the ban. The Chronicle Herald, along with the CBC, CTV and Global News, decided to challenge the ban.

The media’s application asked Campbell to review his decision and hopefully lift the ban. “We were trying to get relief from it,” said Halifax-based media lawyer Nancy Rubin, who represented the media collective. “[We said] we’d like you to review your own decision and revise it, revoke it, vary it.” Their case was heard on May 16, 2014. [5]

At the trial, Rubin argued that Rehtaeh had become a “quasi-celebrity…known by just her first name,” and that publishing her identity was in the public interest. [6] If the public interest was not sufficient reason, Rubin also argued that a provision under the Youth Criminal Justice Act should be applied to the child pornography law. [7] That provision allows parents of deceased victims to consent to the publication of the child’s identity.

Listen: Rubin on the appeal’s significance

“IT WASN’T SYMBOLIC, BUT WE WEREN’T FULLY CONFIDENT OF THE OUTCOME.”

 

A few days later, the media collective’s application was dismissed. In his ruling, Campbell acknowledged that nobody wanted the ban in this particular case, but said that child pornography law allows no judicial discretion. [8] “The child can’t waive it, the parents can’t waive it, and the Crown can’t waive it. Even the judge can’t waive it.” [9]

He sympathized that that “the ban serves no purpose where the deceased young person’s name is already well known to be associated with the case,” and that “allowing her parents to waive her privacy rights would be a good thing if it could be done just for this case, just this once.” [10] But the problem, Campbell wrote, is that the solution cannot be restricted to just this one case. A ruling in favour of the media collective would risk setting an unintended precedent, and could have implications beyond Rehtaeh’s particular case. [11]

Next: Publication bans vs. Public Interest

1. R. v. K.B., 2014 NSPC 24,
2. Christie Blatchford, “Christie Blatchford: Why police could only lay child pornography charges in Rehtaeh Parsons’ case,” National Post, Aug. 8, 2013,  Canadian Press, “Accused pleads guilty in high-profile child pornography case in Halifax,” Toronto Star, Sept. 22, 2014
3. Glen Canning, email interview with author, January 24, 2015.
4. Ibid.
5. R. v. K.B., 2014 NSPC 24
6. R. v. K.B., para 2.
7. Nancy Rubin, telephone interview with author, November 25, 2014
8. R. v. K.B., 2014 NSPC 24
9. R. v. K.B., para 34.
10. R. v. K.B., para 51.
11. Ibid.

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