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

WATCH: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony welcomes athletes from across Canada

Athletes’ medals unveiled at the official opening of 2019 Canada Winter Games

Medals depict Central Alberta landscape and pay tribute to First Nations

Red Deer RCMP arrest man after vehicle theft from dealership

Police were able to disable the SUV with assistance from the built-in vehicle assistance system

Alix resident captures beams of light near Lacombe

Lacombe, Blackfalds, Red Deer photos have since gone viral around the world

WATCH: Canada Winter Games are finally here

Final leg of torch relay kicked off at Fort Normandeau

Fashion Fridays: Up your beauty game

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

LOCATED: Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Amanda Kucher was last seen at the Innisfail 7-Eleven on Feb. 15

Red Deer College transforms into Athletes’ Village

Red Deer College’s campus will be home for the athletes during the 2019 Canada Winter Games

Alberta minor hockey team, slammed for Indigenous dance video, forfeits season

Parents say season was too dangerous to finish because the team has been threatened

Trump officially declares national emergency to build border wall

President plans to siphon billions from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts

Father to be charged with first-degree murder in Amber Alert case

11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found dead in her father’s home in Brampton, Ontario

Red Deer man loses car after being caught twice driving with suspended licence

The Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit ticketed the man in December and on Valentine’s Day

January home sales were weakest since 2015, average national price falls: CREA

CREA says the national average price for all types of residential properties sold in January was $455,000

Most Read