Archive for April, 2013

The Hard Case of Rehteah Parsons

From the opinion pages of today’s StarPhoenix:

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The very purpose of symbolically blindfolding Lady Justice is to ensure that legal dcisions are made in a passionless and logical manner, i.e., in an environment devoid of emotion.

If Bruce MacKinnon intended to make an ironic statement on how makers of opinion, news and legislation are using the singularly emotional and tragic death of a teenager to promote their agendas, then he nailed it spectacularly.

Unfortunately, my suspicion is that MacKinnion truly feels justice ought to be guided by the emotional response generated by mass media hype and political pandering.

That hard cases make bad laws is as true a legal aphorism as any, and this goes especially for those cases involving children.

No doubt that this case is a hard one. I couldn’t imagine anyone not feeling sympathy for the family and close friends of a teenage child who committed suicide, much less for the reasons alleged. Therefore, it’s completely rational to want to ensure that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.

What isn’t rational — but nonetheless inevitable — is the reaction against those who might have a more objective response to the event. As is too often the case in incidences of alleged sexual assaults, the truth of what initially happened to Rehteah is obscure and not provable. To point this out, however, is to elicit the sort of response seen in Christie Blatchford’s piece from today.

The lesson, then, is that if your opinion differs than that of the majority, you’d either have to have the balls of Blatch or just keep your mouth shut.

Politicians are particularly sensitive to this trait. This goes especially for experienced ones, as those politicians who speak logically rather than emotionally do not tend to hold office long enough to gain experience.

Still, this is no excuse for politicians of all stripes to fall over themselves in becoming the first to “do something.

For one thing, despite the furor brought on by Rehteah’s grieving parents, the “cyberbullying” she received after the alleged incident did not kill her; she killed herself as (I’m told) a response to the cyberbullying. There are other means in the criminal code which could have been used — and were considered — in addressing Rehteah’s complaints regarding her harassment.

Another consideration is that the intention of legislation is not the same thing as the outcome. Perhaps anti-cyberbullying (which was not a word, much less than a concept, a couple of years ago) could be prevented through legislation as intended. But what of the unintended consequences, such as the strain on the legal system which would inevitably arise as a result?

My biggest concern is that even if legislation would address future circumstances specific to cases like Rehteah’s, the legal system would be applied to other cases which wouldn’t have merited otherwise. Instead of parents and teachers working with their children to solve their differences (or, better yet, letting the kids solve their issues on their own), you add the strong arm of the law to impose its unyielding will on the actors.

The legal process itself would be punishment enough for a teenager accused of bullying a fellow classmate, regardless of the innocence or veracity of the accused.

The term “bully” is already being abused by people who should know better. Just this week, for example, defenders of Justin Trudeau are accusing Conservatives of “bullying” the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and, apparently, a grown-up.

As Kathy Shaidle implied a while back, “bully” is the new “racist”. It has become a term used to shut others up, the latest progressive cause du jour to which public school kids are encouraged to relate such atrocities as the Holocaust.

(Never mind that the Holocaust occurred precisely because citizens were rendered impotent by the state, who then enforced its own bigoted, monolithic ideology.)

I don’t know if Rehteah was raped or sexually assaulted, or if the boys implicated are telling the truth. No one does for sure, and as a result, many lives have been impacted and the world lost a person far too young.

I do know that the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this episode is to teach my kids to carry themselves in public under the assumption that their actions are being recorded and posted on the internet.  If they are doing something that merits shaming, then chances are someone will use that against them. If all kids applied this lesson, then maybe there would be fewer sexual assaults or false accusations or bullying or what-have-you.

It’s a terrible lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.

To bad this is being lost in the national hysteria.

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