Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PM out of line

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THE two 18-year-old men charged with making and distributing child pornography in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl who committed suicide after a photo of her being sexually assaulted circulated online, have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Shortly after their arrests, Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in on their case. He shouldn't have. No elected official, let alone our highest elected official, should ever opine on a case before the courts, lest it prejudice an accused's right to a fair trial.

When the prime minister addressed the young men's arrest, saying he hoped the charges gave comfort to the Parsons family, he skated close to the edge of legal propriety. One accused's defence counsel has already signalled he may move to stay the charges due to Mr. Harper's comments. If the prime minister hadn't had prior involvement in the case, his words might be excused as merely compassionate. But this past April, he publicly invited the Parsons family to Ottawa to discuss cyberbullying and enactment of laws to punish it. The family, accompanied by Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, met with both the prime minister and then justice minister Rob Nicholson.

The prime minister's comments impliedly throw the weight and authority of the state against the accused, and risk violation of their right to be presumed innocent until impartially convicted in a court of law.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2013 A12

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