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Someone with a Canadian Department of National Defence IP Address Vandalised Rehtaeh Parsons' Wikipedia Page

A DND user changed the word "rape" to "consensual sex," among other things.
February 11, 2015, 3:07pm

Rehtaeh Parsons. Photo via Facebook

DND is investigating its personnel after one or more people using DND IP addresses edited the "Rehtaeh Parsons Suicide" Wikipedia page to say her father believed she wasn't raped.

Now an expert on Nova Scotia's new "cyber-bullying" law says Rehtaeh Parsons' father, Glen Canning, could use the very law her story helped create as legal recourse against the Department of National Defense users who committed the vandalism.

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On January 29, someone using one of the department's IP addresses altered a direct quote from Canning.

The quote previously read: "The two boys involved in taking and posing for the photograph stated Rehtaeh was throwing up when they had sex with her. That is not called consensual sex. That is called rape."

A DND user changed it to say: "The two boys involved in taking and posing for the photograph stated Rehtaeh was throwing up after they had sex with her. That is called consensual sex."

At the end of another quote attributed to an Anonymous news release, which blamed Parsons' death on "school teachers, administrators, the police and prosecutors, those who should have been role models in the late Rehtaeh's life," a DND user typed: "everyone except for her parents."

Dalhousie law professor Wayne MacKay, who is an expert on civil and criminal law in an online context, says the altered quotes could potentially constitute defamation or criminal harassment, but that Canning's strongest legal avenue would be to make an application under Nova Scotia's new "cyberbullying law."

"It notionally could apply because the definition of cyber-bullying as you know is so broad that potentially it could apply," MacKay said over the phone Wednesday. The alteration of the first quote was "almost certainly intended to cause harm," he continued, which meets the guidelines for the cyber-bullying legislation.

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After Rehtaeh's parents went public with her story, the high-profile international reaction led Nova Scotia to introduce legislation against so-called "cyber-bullying."

When she was 15, Rehtaeh told police she was raped by several boys. One of the boys took a photo that showed another boy penetrating Rehtaeh and flashing a thumbs-up while she vomited. The photo spread amongst her peers, who slut-shamed and harassed her. When she was 17, Rehtaeh locked herself in a bathroom and attempted suicide. Her parents took her off life support three days later.

A small army of Wikipedia mods has struggled to stay on top of vandalism and unsourced edits to Rehtaeh's story.

On January 28, after each mention of "suicide," someone using a defence department IP added the word "attempt."

"Why not put some facts in your web page? Seems rather one sided," a DND user commented.

Wikipedia admins have since changed the level of protection on the page. "This has apparently been a serious problem," user DragonflySixtyseven wrote in response to the recent edits.

In November, a Wikipedia moderator said another user, who isn't linked to the defence department, "has been repeatedly removing [the] word 'rape' and deleting referenced, on-topic content."

It's an ongoing pattern, Parsons' father says.

"It's a low blow, but I'm not surprised," Canning said over the phone Tuesday. "I'm getting used to that shit."

He said it was "disgusting" for someone to change his words to say what happened to his daughter was consensual. "I've never said anything like that at all."

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"It might be an option," he said when asked whether he would consider legal action against the DND users who altered his quote. "After a while you just get sick and tired of this stuff."

"The same kinds of comments were left on my website," he said.

Canning received similar comments from another DND IP address on his blog in September and October last year.

One such comment on Canning's post titled "Guilty plea in Rehtaeh Parsons case" said: "Buyer's remorse? Caught in the act, simply doing what she loved and was [sic] embarassed that more people would find out what kind of person she was turning out to be."

If the online comments are part of a pattern, that would lend more weight to an application under the "cyber-bullying" law, MacKay said.

The defence department wouldn't say whether they were also investigating the blog comments.

Defence employees, Canadian Armed Forces members, and contractors who use the DND's network have to follow a directive on acceptable internet use, the department said in an email Tuesday. Defence staff also have to follow an ethics code.

People using DND IP addresses have previously edited Wikipedia pages on Mass Surveillance in the United States, Thanksgiving (Canada), Amputation, Tzatziki, fabled ghost ship the Flying Dutchman, and Captain Planet and the Planeteers, among others.

DND users have repeatedly received warnings to stop vandalizing Wikipedia pages.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter.