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Rehtaeh Parsons’ mother to discuss new law with PM

Leah Parsons, left, mother of Rehtaeh Parsons, and her partner Jason Barnes, attend a protest near the Halifax Regional Police headquarters in Halifax on Sunday, April 14, 2013.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The mother and stepfather of Rehtaeh Parsons are meeting with the Prime Minister Tuesday to discuss how to ensure the distribution of sexually explicit images without consent is treated as a criminal offence.

"The meeting is specifically revolving around one aspect. It's revolving around changes to the criminal code," Leah Parsons said in a telephone interview.

She said she and her partner Jason Barnes received an invitation from the Prime Minister's office on Sunday and have been hurrying to make arrangements to fly to Ottawa to discuss her daughter's death with Stephen Harper.

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Calls for the criminalization of the distribution of intimate images without consent have increased since the death of the 17-year-old Nova Scotian became public and created an outpouring of anger and grief in the province.

Ms. Parsons attempted to hang herself on April 4 and was taken off life-support three days later.

Her family alleges she was sexually assaulted at a house party by four boys in November, 2011, and a sexually explicit photograph of the 15-year-old was distributed.

Police said initially they couldn't prosecute due to insufficient evidence, but recently reopened the case after a new source had come forward.

Premier Darrell Dexter also said Sunday he will be meeting with the Prime Minister on Tuesday to discuss the change to the criminal code.

He said Rehtaeh Parsons will be at the top of their agenda.

"These kinds of changes are needed as a result of changes in technology," he said.

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"The simple fact is the laws we have are not keeping pace."

On Friday, the province's justice minister said in the legislature that he wants to make the circulation of intimate images without consent a criminal act.

Ross Landry said this would apply in cases where the images are distributed for malicious or sexual purposes.

He also said he's receiving support from his counterparts in other provinces, with Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant responding that "his province supports Nova Scotia's efforts.".

Mr. Harper reacted strongly to the Parsons case on April 11, when he said that as a parent of a teenage daughter he found the story to be "sickening."

He said it was time to stop using the term bullying to describe such incidents, saying they are often "youth criminal activity," and "Internet criminal activity."

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In a posting on Sunday, Mr. Harper's wife Laureen and a number of prominent Conservatives tweeted their support for needhelpnow.ca, a website that helps teens respond if someone posts sexual images of them on the Internet.

"Helping to get the word out about needhelpnow.ca," she wrote.

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