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Ruling in Twitter Harassment Case Protects Freedom of Speech

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In a highly publicized decision read in court this past Friday, Gregory Alan Elliott was found not guilty of criminal harassment on Twitter.  The Toronto man was cleared of two charges of criminal harassment arising from his Twitter interactions with two Toronto women’s rights activists, Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly. The decision by Justice Brent Knazan, believed to be among the first of its kind in Canada, provided an analysis on the nature of Twitter and freedom of expression,.

In November of 2012, Mr. Elliott was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal harassment over his online interactions with the two women. Although they had both blocked Mr. Elliott on the site in August of that year, he continued to mention them in other tweets or comment on events or subjects they were discussing online. Ms. Guthrie and Ms. Reilly told police they believed he continued to track their movements and they feared for their safety.

Although Justice Knazan believed that the women may have felt harassed, he found that there was no proof that Mr. Elliott knew they felt that way. The language of Mr. Elliott’s tweets did not include explicitly threatening language. Freedom of expression is a Charter right, and people must tolerate the annoyance of opposing views as part of that right. Justice Knazan noted that although Mr. Elliott’s tweets were mean, crass and insulting, the Crown was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a real threat of violence. Both women may have actually feared Elliott, but Justice Knazan felt there was not enough proof that he had the potential to become violent or that he was aware of their sentiments.

This decision is significant because it makes clear that freedom of speech rights protect even tweets or communications that may annoy or offend us. The decision also offers guidelines on how future cases involving Twitter can be approached.

If you have questions about criminal harassment or freedom of speech and would like to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

Sources:

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2016/01/22/verdict-in-alleged-harassment-of-toronto-feminists-could-change-the-twitterverse.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/verdict-expected-today-in-twitter-harassment-trial/article28334101/