Two police officers walk around Pauline Johnson Junior Public School in Toronto on Monday, January 15, 2018. A Toronto police investigation has concluded that an incident reported by an 11-year-old girl who claimed her hijab was cut by a scissors-wielding man as she walked to school did not happen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Hijab-cutting case highlights ethical issues with putting kids in spotlight

A Toronto police investigation has concluded a girl’s hijab was not cut by a scissors-wielding man as she walked to school

The case of an 11-year-old Toronto girl who made headlines when she falsely claimed that a scissors-wielding stranger had cut her hijab highlights the complex ethical issues that arise when a child is thrust into the national spotlight, experts say.

Police said this week their investigation found the alleged incident didn’t happen, just days after the girl and her family gave a detailed account during a high-profile news conference.

Related: Toronto police say young girl made up story about hijab cutting

The allegations captured international attention and drew swift public condemnation from the prime minister and other officials — a situation that saw the girl’s name and image splashed all over the news and social media.

Many media outlets, including The Canadian Press, have since chosen not to identify the girl. Some publications outside Canada, however, continued to use her name and photo even after the allegations were dismissed as false.

While the law doesn’t automatically prevent anyone from naming an underage victim in a crime allegedly committed by an adult, there is a “strong moral and ethical” argument for protecting a child’s identity, said Emma Rhodes, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in youth criminal justice.

“We protect children so that they can go on to become successful adults and with the internet as it is, by naming her, we are potentially harming her in becoming a successful adult,” she said.

It is up to the adults in the girl’s life, from her parents and police to media and observers, to put those safeguards in place, Rhodes said.

“It is our moral and ethical responsibility to let her be 11, to protect her because she’s a child.”

That the girl appeared alongside her parents, police and school officials — a “very unusual” occurrence — only muddied the waters, said Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

There is a “pretty hard-and-fast” rule that journalists should not interview minors without parental consent, but in this case, the fact that her parents seemed on board normalized the situation, as did the comments made by politicians, he said.

Competition and pressure within the news industry also likely fuelled the rush to speak to the girl and her family, who may not have understood what they were getting themselves into, he said.

Nonetheless journalists have a responsibility to do their due diligence and to ensure their sources understand what’s at stake, particularly when dealing with children, he said.

“This was a perfect storm of circumstances,” Dvorkin said.

“Are we embarrassed for what the media did? Are we embarrassed for the child, which we should be? Are we embarrassed for the family that may not have understood the consequences of bringing their child out in that way?” he asked.

“This is such a layered story about culture and…journalism and the digital culture that drives all of this. It’ll end up being, I think, a case study in journalism schools and in ethical studies.”

A spokesman for the Toronto District School Board said the girl and her family were asked if they wanted to speak at Friday’s news conference, which was held at the girl’s school.

“The family members said they would speak to media and it was our understanding that this happened after, not before, they provided statements to police,” Ryan Bird said in an email.

“Our motivation for commenting on the issue at the time was only out of compassion, care, concern and support — as did many elected leaders nationally, provincially and locally via interviews or social media.”

Neither the girl nor her family have spoken publicly since police closed their investigation on Monday.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Deer study using collars, cameras under watchful eyes outside of Victoria

Method ‘could revolutionize how we go about doing wildlife studies of this kind,’ says scientist

Town clock back on the Ave. in Oak Bay

A computer failure discovered after daylight savings in Nov. sent the clock in for upgrades

Saanich police look for driver involved in a hit-and-run

Incident happened Monday, Feb. 18 near Admirals Road by Murray Drive

Bungy jump naked in support of mental health programs

Registration open for annual fundraiser for BC Schizophrenia Society

Search for modular housing in Saanich continues

Municipality says it remains committed to search for suitable piece of land to house homeless

Black Press readers share photos of their favourite critters on #LoveYourPetDay

Greater Victoria is raining cats and dogs…and snails and goats

POLL: Will you be wearing pink to take a stand against bullying

Schools and workplaces across Greater Victoria and around the province will be… Continue reading

B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas resumes battle with suspended staff

Committee meets at B.C. legislature to consider new allegations

Northern B.C. train derailment due to broken axle could happen again: TSB

CN coal train derailment caused by broken axle can happen again without a different way to inspect

Former B.C. fire chief sues his city after termination

Keith Green’s civil claim says that he believes he was wrongfully terminated

B.C. man injured in police shooting now in wheelchair

“Shots were fired by police and the Kelowna man was transported to the hospital with serious injuries.”

Peter Tork, Monkees’ lovable bass-guitar player, dies at 77

Tork, Micky Dolenz, David Jones and Michael Nesmith formed the made-for-television rock band

From a drunk judge to Clifford Olson: George Garrett recounts a life in B.C. news radio

New book from ‘Intrepid Reporter’ George Garrett offers readers a glimpse behind the headlines

Wife remembers B.C. man killed in possible case of mistaken identity

Rex Gill was in Kamloops working to support his family after oilfield job dried up

Most Read