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Criminal charges not ruled out in drowning case, police say

Criminal charges in Canada have not been ruled out in the case of the Minnesota man under investigation for encouraging Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji to commit suicide, Ottawa police say.

Staff Sergeant Uday Jaswal says he didn't mean to leave the impression that the case was closed during a recent meeting in Brampton, Ont., with Ms. Kajouji's mother, Deborah Chevalier.

Ms. Chevalier has been critical of the lack of progress in the case. In April, 2008, her 18-year-old daughter was found drowned in the Rideau River. The hard drive of her computer showed she had had disturbing conversations online before she disappeared with someone who encouraged her to hang herself in front of a webcam.

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William Melchert-Dinkel, 47, is being investigated by police in Minnesota for visiting Internet suicide chat rooms and encouraging a number of depressed individuals to take their own lives.

Staff Sgt. Jaswal and a colleague came to Brampton last month to discuss the case with Ms. Chevalier, who taped the interview without their knowledge.

She says Staff Sgt. Jaswal told her he wasn't comfortable going ahead with charges and that the investigative team couldn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship between her daughter's disturbing Internet conversations with the Minnesota man and her suicide.

In an interview yesterday, Staff Sgt. Jaswal says that was one part of a 30-minute conversation in which he described the challenges of the investigation.

"We tried to be as upfront, as honest as we could be, under the circumstances. I tried to explain and give the background as best we could.

"If at the end of the day that wasn't her understanding, then clearly I didn't do my job well. That is something I will have to follow-up on and address."

Ms. Chevalier said it has been her sense from the beginning that the Ottawa police were not pursuing charges.

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She taped the interview because she wanted a record of what investigators were telling her in private.

Staff Sgt. Jaswal says Ottawa police first have to verify that Mr. Melchert-Dinkel is the person who had long conversations with Ms. Kajouji before she ended her life.

Then they will seek the advice of the Crown Attorney's office on whether the case should proceed. Section 241 of Canada's Criminal Code says it is an offence to counsel a person to commit suicide or to aid and abet a person to commit suicide. That sounds straightforward, Staff Sgt. Jaswal says, but the police need advice from the Crown Attorney's office on what threshold the courts have set in the past to convict someone.

"Is a conversation about suicide enough? Is the suggestion of suicide enough?"

Legal experts in the U.S. have said getting a conviction in this kind of case could be difficult, especially if the accused claims freedom of speech. Ms. Chevalier says she is confident the Minnesota authorities will lay charges, and hopes Ottawa police will do the same.

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About the Author

Anne McIlroy has been a journalist for more than 25 years. She joined the Globe in 1996, and has been the science reporter as well as the parliamentary bureau chief. She studied journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. More

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