Sunday, April 14, 2013

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Justice Denied: Farewell to Rehtaeh Parsons, Farewell to Jeff de la Rosa

Today is "Ruination Day", the 14th of April, the day Abraham Lincoln was shot 148 years ago. An incomprehensible act, like the ones I mourn today.

Today, like every day since last Sunday, I am so saddened by the death of Rehtaeh Parsons: saddened, angered, shocked, aggrieved. One look at 17 year-old Rehtaeh’s open-hearted, beautiful face, captured in the many images so generously and lovingly shared by her family, is all it takes to know what a sensitive young woman she was, what a big heart she had. The stories of her compassion and love for all living things are hardly necessary additions. But those stories abound. And one involves Brindi.

By now, I am just one of millions who feel pain and sorrow at Rehtaeh’s death, sharing a fraction of what her family is going through, so my feelings are nothing special. And in this age of information, or should I say, disinformation, it’s nothing particularly special to say that I too know what it is like to be bullied and harassed. Perhaps not for the same reasons, to be sure, but certainly for a prolonged period of time, as she was, and based on misconceptions and lies, as she was. In fact, I've known it for more than four years, and it’s still going strong.

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying the triggering experience was similar at all, nor the aftermath of the photo circulated. "It's just 'He said - she said'" must have felt like a slap in the face, a betrayal of trust. I can't think how anybody trained in public relations would make the mistake of repeating it for the media nearly two years later.

I have been spared that horror without a doubt. But I do know a little of what it’s like to have your identity trashed over and over until you don’t know who you are anymore, until you've become unrecognizable to yourself - you've internalized the abuse and it keeps on disintegrating your very soul. I know something of the humiliation that comes with such trauma to the identity, compounded by more humiliation following disbelief and disappointment at the response of the authorities.

It was plenty traumatic to be a newcomer in the area, no job, friends or family to rely on; have a contractor cheat me, do poor work that can't be undone, then abandon the project, leaving my house up in the air. And before I can recover from this and find a new contract, my beloved dog - my only joy, the reason I got up each day - seized for no good reason. I know the agony and the gruelling experience of dealing with lawyers, working ceaselessly on the case for months - then win it but be betrayed by that lawyer and find the city still refusing to release her. An unthinkable two years later - with untold costs, she is finally free - then seized just weeks later on a ruse, held for another three years now, I think - while the city goes after me personally, makes me homeless and tries to demolish my heritage house, sidestepping all laws and procedures to do it  -and without any orders citing actual issues, without the building inspector even saying the house was structurally unsound. All of this for what? For extremely minor incidents that don’t begin to compare to the average dog fight, let alone to cases of fatalities where HRM inexplicably never seized or even muzzled the dogs. And not infrequently, didn't even charge the owners with an offence. My sweet dog, my heart, held in a cage for years and years and years, a city deaf to pleas from hundreds and maybe thousands, among them, vets and trainers –all the way to the Cesar Milan Foundation - none of them supporting in any way what this Canadian has done, is doing, still very much wants to do, that is, kill Brindi - and destroy me. 

Rehtaeh was a girl who lived not far from me, a girl I never met, but who met someone I love very dearly. I am doubly saddened and angered about Rehtaeh because, like her mother Leah, who runs a shepherd rescue, she loved animals. I have good reason to believe that she loved Brindi as well.
I know Rehtaeh met Brindi, because Leah, her mom, a former animal control officer. told Bob Riley, Humane Halifax spokesman and Brindi stalwart, that she took her kids to see Brindi many times at the SPCA shelter, and before she left her job Leah confirmed this privately to me. How she did this, I don't know, because officially, nobody was allowed to see Brindi, not me, not even HRM councillors. A policy breach? Well, Brindi would be worth it. 

So I don’t feel it’s a stretch to say believe Rehtaeh had a heart for Brindi, or that she, like so many others, would have loved to see her live free; that maybe she knew how wrong it was to seize her to be killed and then lock her up for years on a pretext and a fictional law. No, I am not going out on a limb here, I don’t think. And knowing that makes me no less sorry that I was not able to stop HRM all this time, and though I managed to stop them from killing her so far, I would apologize to Rehtaeh if I could, though I have a feeling, I hope anyway, that she’d understand what I’ve been up against, given that she had to have some knowledge of things behind the scenes. And Rehtaeh had a heart for all animals, even earthworms and rats, according to her family.

And as if that most pure kind of unconditional love wasn’t enough, her parents say that she left a gift of her heart and other organs so that human lives could be saved – a total of four people, evidently. A person with that kind of compassion would have to feel for Brindi. And to know that such a person was handed official excuses for inaction, on top of what happened to her at a stranger’s house, then relentlessly bullied and harassed – that such an aware, sensitive young person was treated like a liar and made to feel worthless, maybe even like a criminal herself, to the point that the pain canceled out the love from family and friends, the point that she chose death over more pain – that’s just too much to bear. Really too much. 

And the great barge sank and the okies fled
And the great emancipator took a bullet in the head
In the head
Took a bullet in the back of the head

It was not December and it was not in May
Was the 14th of April, that is ruination day
That's the day
The day that is ruination day

They were one, they were two, they were three, they were four
They were five hundred miles from their home
From their home
They were five hundred miles from their home.

When the iceberg hit, well they must have known
God moves on the water Casey Jones
Casey Jones
God moves on the water Casey Jones

It was not December and it was not in May
Was the 14th of April, that is ruination day
That's the day
The day that is ruination day

This is the kind of ordeal that drives good men to suicide: Jeff de la Rosa 

If you think I’m exaggerating or a bit out of line when I say that I know something of the pain, if you don’t think fighting for your dog’s life could attract stalkers and bullies and compare in any way to the horrors of that poor young girl enough to drive a person to want to die, go ask Jeff de la Rosa’s family.

Jeff was an intelligent, well-educated man about my age, with a good career as a lighting engineer in the film industry in LA. He committed suicide on January 31 of this year. He was heartbroken after years of struggle and sacrifice to save a dog he loved, went through years of hell that left no part of his life and possessions undamaged. It would not be an exaggeration to classify the deeply damaging and debilitating effects as PTSD. I know I suffer from it - and curiously, HRM has never disputed it.  

Jeff’s dog Stu was seized in 2004. He had been bitten and wounded by Jeff's other dog Maeve, then Stu, frightened and cornered (rather stupidly, it has to be said) by a caregiver, bit her in the arm. Dubious motives led to both dogs being seized. Thanks to Jeff's efforts, Maeve was returned quickly, and soon Stu was cleared of the “dangerous dog” label in a hearing, and slated to be released. But somehow certain L.A. officials just didn’t like the idea of letting him go. Despite all Jeff’s hard work, victories at hearings and in court over several years, poor Stu passed away in 2011 – in captivity. His teeth were ruined after the first year, a fate Jeff warned me about back in 2008. (I was incredulous, and then just a few months later agonized to learn it was happening to my own dog despite my own efforts, chronicled in this blog along with the damage and the feeble efforts to "rinse" daily...).

I only met Jeff at a distance, on the phone and online, but we shared a special closeness, as he was one of the only people on the planet who could begin to relate to what I was going through. Six months into my hell, he warned me about what I didn’t quite know I was about to go through - not just the loss of friends and family bonds, the loss of income, of security, but betrayals and swindles by the very people entrusted to rescue my best friend. Lawyers, so-called animal advocates. I now am very well acquainted with this hell, I am sad to say. The bullying and cyberstalking (and real stalking) are just a part of it, but a very toxic part indeed. Jeff tried very hard to help me and I owe him a great debt that I am devastated to realize I can never repay.

By any measure, Jeff’s ordeal was unbelievable and unforgivable. It never seemed to end. Around 2010 some misguided self-appointed "advocates" set him up for arrest on false assault charges, timed so he would conveniently be in jail when they trashed his house and - incredibly - stole his other dog Maeve. He never saw her again and I could hardly bear hearing him tell me about it. It all went far too far, and the consequences are irreversible. I can't discuss much more of it right now. I hope he will forgive me for now. But suffice it to say, Jeff was a good man, and he should not have gone through any of that, not a bit of it; he deserved to be enjoying his life today instead, just as Rehtaeh should be enjoying an April Sunday with her two- and four-legged friends, right this very second.

But a lot of people let them down. Rehtaeh's dad says she wasn't bullied to death, as much as “'disappointed to death' by people she felt let her down, including police, her school and friends. She felt an entire community had turned its back on her, and she sought suicide to end the pain."

Jeff de la Rosa felt let down, and I kind of know how it feels to be let down by the community, too. 

People tell you to ignore it, but they don't know how bullying and harassment takes its toll, or that over the years it inevitably affects one's ability to get things done, even things that are the biggest priority, like saving a dog's life. There's already not enough time in the day to cope with misinformation in the media and inaccuracies and discrepancies in the official "record". At several junctures it became too much, though, and I had to turn to the RCMP for help, devote time to prepare the information, do research on offences, etc. - only to be let down by the same sort of excuses they told Rehtaeh. I had reams of evidence, including emails full of obscenities and hate, photographs taken on my property by stalkers, and so on. Facebook and blogger even found cause to remove some of this material, but the RCMP weren't moved to act. They somehow couldn’t fathom how online stalking and bullying actually fits the offences of “criminal harassment” and “intimidation” as defined in the Canada Criminal Code. To them, the hate blogs, facebook groups, and twitter messages (which were actually directed at me, with my handle in them) were merely “free speech” or “opinion”.

Nearly three years in, when an officer finally talked to one Wayne Croft (not the one I talked to but one near his location), he denied that he owned a computer. Then he admitted that he had one, and was addicted to the internet… So they told him as long as he did not contact me via email, he wouldn’t be charged. The RCMP apparently don’t think that tweets and facebook posts constitute “direct communication” that they feel counts as harassment. To him, this was pretty much tacit approval of the many hate groups on Facebook and hate blogs that I was helpless to put a stop to. And yet as if to spite them, a few weeks later he was emailing me obscenities again. I contacted the RCMP as instructed, provided them with the evidence, and yet all they did was go back and give him a “second warning” – no charges laid. He hasn't stopped a bit, went on to twitter and regularly intercepts tweets. And he sent me more hate mail last fall, which I dutifully sent on - no response, so far. Otherwise, trying to get the police to help only added to the stress, borne of the frustration, and humiliation on top of my agony over Brindi. And I didn’t bother calling the police even when some of these people came onto my property, did damage, boasted about it online and in emails. Maybe things will change now. I don't know.

What I do know is, I never committed any criminal offence in my life, yet I never got such patient warnings from the RCMP or anybody in officialdom, really. The police once tried to charge me with criminal harassment on the strength of a rumor started by people bullying me online - people who admitted it to me as well, later, when they realized they'd misjudged things terribly and were now responsible for unleashing a storm of hate on me that wouldn't die out.

Later on, the RCMP came to my home one morning with HRM by-law officials I’d never seen before, and evicted me with no notice (or cause). The eviction was conveniently timed just weeks after they took Brindi a second time, after a very odd incident in the fall, reported by people who were standing in front of my house one dark night - people related to the family that testified against us in court (five people, no less). That the first RCMP constable I turned to for help with cyberbullying and stalkers ended up in the team that evicted me, and also aided HRM in trying to kill Brindi, was to be expected, I guess. The ruse for the eviction was that it was “unsafe” and an emergency situation prevailed was an utter lie: HRM never issued an “Order to Remedy”, which is required by law, before or after the eviction, and so I did nothing more to it, yet somehow, this “unsafe” house it was still standing eight months later. Of course pipes burst inside the house by then, because the police would not let me leave any heat on to keep them from freezing.  I was never given a chance to appeal any of it before an "impartial body". But I had to get in to do repairs and keep an eye on things, so they dragged me out of my house more than once, in fact. I can thank a certain family for that, too, I guess.

Add to that, locking my cat inside the house when they bolted the doors shut; the mysterious damage to my water heater and dog run (part of court conditions); and the gratuitous "safety" fence HRM workers erected that day, nicely setting the stage for HRM to threaten seizing my property to this day, by dumping the cost (upwards of $10,000, yes, that's how much) into my (otherwise paid up) property tax account, labeling the sum as “arrears”, and charging 15% interest on it - capping off a whole series of wrongdoings I can’t possibly fight in court and also manage to fight for Brindi, which they know, of course. But never mind that now: I'm fighting for Brindi, if it kills me, because it would kill me not to.

But because of such things, and the fact that I haven’t exactly been in touch with friends very much, near or far. Consequently, I just found out about Jeff de la Rosa’s death by chance about a week and a half ago. I was still reeling from that shock, and a wretched, lie-based blog post shamelessly taunting him even in death, when I saw Leah’s facebook post last Sunday. I have over 4000 “friends” on facebook, and my feed is full of photos of family pets about to be killed a shelter somewhere, usually North America, or wild animals being abused or killed somewhere else. In the midst of these, I saw Leah’s post, which said that later that day, the hospital was going to disconnect life support for her daughter. I could hardly believe the words were real, let alone the following information about how she had been raped by four boys two years ago, at age 15; that they took a photo, shared it around; that she was bullied ever since and lost her struggle with depression and despair. I saw that post one week ago today. I was so stunned anybody would announce such a thing in advance, first off, I didn’t quite know how to deal with it other than express sympathy and support. I knew I could never comprehend the fact that in a few hours’ time, a girl’s life would be ended, as announced.

Justice delayed equals justice denied

My mind has been spinning, needless to say. It's been mostly occupied with the immediateness of this story, with the injustice of Rehtaeh’s treatment at the hands of her peers on that terrible night and ever since, and the lack of action on the part of the authorities. It’s hard to know what aspect of this tragedy to focus on. I have a hard time focusing as it is, heaven knows. I followed it, put in my two cents on various pages - and meanwhile it started sinking in, who she was, and what it meant to my little world - that she had met Brindi, and more than once. I can’t describe the feeling. Confusion, mainly, and a protective numbness: the kind of avoidance of pain that sets in with post-traumatic stress, symptoms of which I’ve had since, well, 2008, renewed again through the whole litany of seizure, eviction, bogus demolition orders, reversals at court; things that can’t fit in a few sentences, things I work hard to forget every day so I can more or less function, even though I live amid the reminders.

But my primary and main concern was that Rehtaeh’s story would disappear after a day or two. Thanks to Leah’s amazing commitment and strength, however, by Tuesday, Rehtaeh and her story leapt from facebook to a radio interview on the local CBC’s Maritime Noon, then suddenly blazed right around the world, saddening and angering human hearts right around the world. Impassioned statements coming  back from Germany, Cambodia, Japan and all parts in between. By Tuesday, people speaking as Anonymous had set their sights on the police, the Crown prosecutors, and the minister of justice – the same authorities I have been trying to reason with since 2008, to no avail. By Friday, imagine! - all three had done an about face – but not before Dexter and Harper, the men heading the province and the entire nation, were on it! And there's a protest organized by Anonymous at the RCMP headquarters downtown this afternoon. 

It’s gotten so intense now, I’m almost at the point of worrying about the boys involved – the one who reportedly just confessed at the start of the weekend, and the others, whose names Anonymous easily tracked down (still trending on – because I’m sure they never imagined the whole world would be shouting for them to be punished. That’s not really their doing as much as the non-doing of the authorities, however.

And coincidentally, these are the very same people who have received hundreds of calls and letters about Brindi over the past years. I don’t know what that means, it’s just a fact. I don’t presume to draw any conclusions about it, other than being amazed and impressed, wow, wow, wow. It’s just too late for Rehtaeh, which is truly terrible. Hopefully it’s not too late for the other Rehtaeh’s out there. I shudder to think how many there might be.

And maybe, hopefully, at some point at least, these people can also think about Rehtaeh’s love for animals, and how to honor it in a tangible way - beyond donating to rescues (preferably the East Coast German Shepherd Rescue run by her mom!) - so that maybe, just maybe, it won’t be too late for Brindi. And me. I don’t know.


  1. I first heard about Rehtaeh when I was emailed the link to her mom’s Facebook entry where she said they were going to remove Rehtaeh from life support in a few hours.

    For the rest of the day, my mind drifted back to her… and her family. I could not help but imagine the agony her family had endured to come to the point of knowing there was nothing left that would save their daughter and deciding they were going to turn off life support.

    What an agonizing couple days that must have been for them as they did all they could to save their child who had completely and entirely given up. Little could Rehtaeh have imagined that her private agony in a quiet corner of Canada could or would spark outrage in the hearts of people — both women and men — around the world. I wonder that had she known so many cared so much for her if things might have somehow shifted in her head and saved her. Sometimes the weight of a feather can make all the difference.

    I was sexually abused by an adult when I was a teenager. When he was “done,” he summarily tossed me away. This almost cost me my life. I had picked the perfect curve on the perfect road where the perfect tree was growing to drive my car into. If I did it “right,” it would be a quick death and no one would be the wiser to my secret agony. No one would even know it was more than a simple, tragic accident. I was beyond depressed. I was consumed by it. The depression was my own private hell.

    What saved me was going away to college. I was suddenly among new people in a new environment with new experiences… a clean slate of sorts. I had no time to look back and no reminders. Actually, aside from holidays and a few road trips, I rarely went home again... or since.

    Coincidentally, my folks moved to a new town just after I went to college so my dad could be closer to his job. When I did go home, it was to a different place with no memories of what had happened.

    I was one of the lucky ones. Very lucky. I survived. I was sexually abused, but it was not public knowledge. I was not bullied and no photos were circulated. In recent years, I learned that people “suspected” abuse by this man against several young women, but no one took action. This was almost 40 years ago. Sexual abuse was not something that was talked about. Maybe it was not considered abuse back then so much as just bad behavior.

    My abuse was almost 4 decades ago. I thought it was long past and buried, but each new story and each new suicide or attempted suicide brings it closer to the surface again for me. It opens a dark corner. I have never confronted my abuser for the same reasons that failed Rehtaeh. What chance do I have to see this man come to justice? Is it worth dragging my elderly mother and the rest of my family through this? What if I fail? And what do I want from him now anyway?

    So returning to Rehtaeh’s story — and every similar one, I am “stuck” on the moment where they actually go through with their thoughts of suicide; their pain so great that they are blinded into thinking this is all they can do to help themselves. It’s so easy to tell them, “it will get better,” but I can also remember when my own thoughts of suicide were far greater than any possible wisdom or knowledge that such a statement might contain. It’s an abstract concept too hard to even imagine at the time.

    By luck and the grace of my guardian angels, I survived. I am damaged — I shall never forget — but I am alive. It doesn’t go away. Perhaps it never will, but it does get better.

    Rus in vrede, Rehtaeh

  2. Reading through this very detailed, heartfelt post fills me with sadness, frustration and rage at a democratic system that would put good people and good dogs through such an unwarranted hell... and for what purpose?

    Justice delayed most certainly IS justice denied. For Rehtaeh, her mother & family who all suffered from such an unthinkable gang rape which the RCMP inexplicably chose to IGNORE! Then 2 yrs of cyber bullying, also IGNORED. It took another young girl's suicide to get the authorities & politicians' attention and 'possibly' charges.

    Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. How many more will follow, because there were NO consequences for rape & bullying?

    More injustice for Jeff, by all accounts a wonderful man, friend and loving dog owner, forced into the legal system to defend his dogs, wrongly seized based on a misunderstanding. Mitigating circumstances ignored. Instead the authorities dragged this case out for YEARS with unreasonable, illegal delays & unjust seizure of Stu who died behind bars. More heartbreak for Jeff with false arrest while police ransack his home, seizing his lone companion Maeve, further bullying that pushed him to take his life.

    This heinous victimization, abuse of authority & obstruction of justice runs rampant at almost every level of our society today. It begs the question, who are the REAL criminals here?

    So many innocent dogs are being targeted and put to death, despite compliant owners who care for them, dutifully paying for training, vetting, licenses, then added legal costs to defend them against "non incidents" that should never have become an issue.

    Nowhere is this more egregious than in Brindi's case, explained above in each painful detail as the "lynch mob mentality" runs amok in Halifax. The courts, police, politicians, other authorities all sat on their hands doing NOTHING to help. City workers failed to do the job they were paid to do. Instead, at every opportunity, officials chose to obstruct justice, deny justice, and cover up their own negligence and mistakes. To deliberately lie in court. To trump up anything they could think of to use against Francesca, to vilify & discredit her while misleading the media.

    Extortion, collusion, corruption everywhere. Nobody's rights should be so abused, by authorities with no repercussions. Violations of Francesca's rights and abuse of her beloved dog Brindi, who sits in an unlicensed, short term, sub standard facility over 4 years behind bars, now a senior in declining health. No proper vet care, visitations, socializing with other dogs, inadequate stimulation & exercise.

    We give rapists, murderers lesser jail timees or conditional release, while we put loving, obedient pets to death in shelters for lack of a home, or like Brindi, locked them up indefinitely under false pretenses!!

    The legal system continues to physically, emotionally & financially drain Francesca. What is a good, law abiding citizen supposed to do, when those agencies charged with upholding the law fail to do so. When authorities do not follow a Supreme Court Order for years after it is issued. What recourse does one have when people in charge of due process are totally indifferent to the truth? When people lack good business practices, when morally corrupt officials elected by the people fail to honour their oath of office. When courts and law enforcement fail to serve or to protect victims, repeatedly trampling on their rights, dishonouring the truth & ignoring the plight of honourable folks?

    Justice has been delayed and denied for over FOUR years for Francesca and Brindi, with the final chapter in this book of shame to be determined in Halifax at the Final Appeal schedule for Apr 25 & 25, 2013


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