At the age of 15, on a Saturday night in 2013, Rehtaeh Anne Parsons was sexually assaulted by a group of classmates when she went to sleep over at her friend’s place.
On that night, her friend wanted her to go with her down the street to say hi to some high school boys who lived in the neighbourhood.
The boys had been drinking vodka that night, and offered Parsons some.
“Her mom always told her if you are ever in a place where there are more boys than girls, you have to leave,” her father Glen Canning told an audience at Algonquin Oct. 10. “It’s best just to leave.”
Yet, Parsons was sexually assaulted, and in the week that followed, she was ridiculed, cyber-bullied and made fun of after the assult.
“It was absolutely horrible what things people were saying about her,” Canning told an audience of 20, attending as part of mental health week activities at Algonquin.
Everywhere she went, there were people who made her realize that she was assaulted.
A few days later, distraught, Parsons tried to take her own life.
Speaking to the hushed group, Canning’s voice quivered with emotion as he described how his daughter was in the process of ending her life when her aunt saw her and called her mom.
At the time, Canning said, he was out of town when his wife told him on a call. He talked to Parsons as well.
“I told her everything is going to be okay,” Canning said.
“She always used to say that she would never end her life. She used to say that she will always be there for her sisters,” Canning said. “We were worried because we were always talking to her about it. We always told her to hold on; she was loved and so needed in this world.”
Still, Canning admitted his doubts about his previous words to his daughter.
“I look back today and think that what a big lie of my life it was, saying that it’s going be okay,” Canning said. “Because I had no idea what the next year is going to be and the nightmare that is going to unfold at the hands of students in her school.”
Parsons recovered from the suicide attempt and changed schools but the mocking continued. She made two subsequent attempts, slipping into a coma after the last attempt. She died on April 7, 2013 when her life support was voluntarily switched off.
“The machine started beeping around us. That was the last part of her mind dying.”
Canning’s talk was promoted by the college’s Project Lighthouse which works at preventing sexual violence and directing students to healthy sexual relationships.