Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bereaved parents raise awareness of teens' plight

Cyber-bullying, child sexual exploitation

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Their daughters are gone, victims of prolonged cyber-bullying and sexual exploitation which eventually drove them both to suicide.

Now Glen Canning and Carol Todd are taking their heartbreaking stories across the country, hoping to raise awareness about a plight facing so many other teenagers these days.

"This is one of the hardest things I have to do, to talk about my daughter. I know she's not here in the physical sense, but she's here in the spiritual sense," an emotional Todd told a Winnipeg crowd on Monday.

She was one of the featured speakers at the Beyond Borders national symposium on child sexual exploitation in the digital age.

Amanda Todd was just 15 when she hanged herself in her Port Coquitlam, B.C., home in October 2012. She made a YouTube video prior to ending her life, which has now been viewed more than 28 million times.

In it, Amanda used a series of flash cards to tell the world how she was befriended by an online stranger who convinced her to flash the camera. The resulting topless photo was then used to destroy her life. It was spread across the Internet, shared by so-called friends and classmates and used to humiliate and blackmail her.

"I don't get why kids do that sort of thing. Are we not teaching them the right way?" Todd said Monday.

Canning can relate to what he calls the "slut-shaming" of young women. His 17-year-old daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons, committed suicide last April after nude photos of her were spread around her school and the town of Cole Harbour, N.S.

"This could happen to anybody's child," Canning said Monday during the symposium. "She became someone myself and her mom didn't even recognize. It was hell."

Rehtaeh had gone with a friend to a house down the street where she was given alcohol and eventually passed out. Family members allege she was raped by four teen boys at the home, with photos of her being taken without her knowledge or consent.

The RCMP have re-opened their investigation into the case and recently charged two of the teens with child pornography offences.

"This is a serious, deadly issue. Why it's happening I have no idea," said Canning, who has become a vocal advocate for change and maintains a blog dedicated to fighting online bullying.

Richard Guerry has seen this type of situation play out far too often. The New Jersey-based founder for the non-profit Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication also participated in the symposium, giving the audience an eye-opening presentation about how easy cybercrime has become.

His message: Don't put anything online you wouldn't want your closest loved one seeing.

"The dude who created Facebook got hacked. Multiple times. If he can get hacked, anyone can get hacked," said Guerry. He outlined some of the "gaping holes" that remain in social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat which allow online predators to take advantage.

"We need to stop and think about the way we are using these tools," he said.

Jonathan Rosenthal, a criminal defence lawyer who is the national spokesperson for Beyond Borders ECPAT Canada, described the Internet as still in a "Wild West" phase.

Both Todd and Canning believes more legislation is needed to protect would-be victims from the types of predators who wish to exploit vulnerable young people like their daughters.

They gave kudos to Manitoba for recently enacting anti-bullying legislation. Bill 18 is, in part, the province's response to Todd's death.

"I so wish Amanda hadn't done what she did. If she had overcome it, she'd be sitting here as a youth advocate with a big voice," her mother said Monday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2013 B2

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