As TheRebel.media's Lauren Southern has reported, the final judgement in the Twitter harassment trial has been handed down in Toronto; it upheld Canadians’ rights to free speech.
At legal issue was the definition of criminal harassment, the charge leveled against graphic artist Gregory Alan Elliott by two women’s rights activists, Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly.
In that framework were the specific definitions of Actus Reus—culpable behavior and consequences, and Mens Rea—the so-called "mental element" of the charge.
Judge Brent Knazan’s ruling took over three hours to read and included a long explication of how communication works within Twitter. The novelty of the social media site, it seems, called for an inventive response.
In 2012, Guthrie and Reilly engaged in a Twitter exchange with Elliott, one that began innocently enough when Guthrie sounded out Elliot on the possibility of creating a poster for #WoTopoli, a hashtag abbreviation for "Women in Toronto politics."
The in-person meeting didn’t go well, at least for Guthrie, and there is some evidence pointing to Elliott’s mild romantic interest in her. However, nothing came of it and for many months online relations between the two were cordial.
Things "took a bad turn," according to Guthrie, when Elliot defended a young Sault Ste. Marie man she had called out for having created a face-punch game aimed at Anita Sarkeesian. (Sarkeesian is the controversial editor of FeministFrequency.com and one of the major players in #GamerGate.)
Such face-punch games are quite prevalent online; they are simple to make and target many celebrities. However, this fact was lost in the outrage over the insult to Sarkeesian.
Game creator Ben Spurr was also on Twitter when Guthrie unleashed the ire of her followers on him, creating a torrent that had real-world consequences: Twitterers in Sault Ste Marie and elsewhere were advised against hiring the young man.
What gave Guthrie’s action its Goliath quality was the differential between Spurr’s mere 11 followers and her 8,000.
Elliott, the father of four sons, became concerned about this torrent against Spurr, and suggested that Spurr might even be pushed to suicide.
Thus began a downward slide in communications between Elliott and Guthrie (and Guthrie’s friends.)
A particularly unpleasant exchange led both Guthrie and Reilly to block Elliott. However, by using the same Twitter hashtags, the three continued to take part in many similar online conversations. Guthrie felt this was evidence of Elliott’s obsession with her, although he tweeted nothing that could be construed as inappropriate or threatening.
However, a tipping point came when Elliott pinpointed Guthrie’s location one evening, saying there would be, "A whole lot of ugly at the Cadillac Lounge tonight." It was after this tweet, Guthrie alleges, that she began to fear for her safety.
Judge Knazan’s lengthy judgement delves deeply into the details and sequencing of Elliott’s interactions, not only with Guthrie, but with several of her friends who used Twitter to challenge him on his politics.
Reading through these tweets, it becomes clear that Elliott’s perception of being ganged up on by the group is accurate. Although he continued to use the same hashtags that Guthrie and her friends did, he also, spontaneously and legitimately, discussed the political issues these friends raised.
Specifically, Elliott’s pattern of responding suggests he was focused on these issues, not on Guthrie. It also suggests that Guthrie’s hostility formed the impetus for her friends' challenges in the first place.
That is, Guthrie did seem to be responsible for what the defense referred to as “taunting,” although the Crown asserted the women were merely defending themselves. However, that assertion was called into question by the sequencing laid out by Knazan.
What became very clear is that if Elliott was obsessed with Guthrie, she was equally, if not more, obsessed with him.
How else to interpret her insistent and prolonged tweeting about the man?
Indeed, it was exactly Guthrie’s ongoing participation in the discussions—both before and after she blocked Elliott—that suggested her feeling of being harassed was never explicitly communicated to Elliott. That is, Elliott did not "know" he was harassing Guthrie (Mens Rea) and so he was not legally culpable (Actus Reus).
Moreover, the fact that Guthrie continued to tweet to and about Elliott, even after blocking him, meant her tweets sent "a mixed message." (The judge decided that using the same hashtag does not a harasser make, thankfully.)
However, the Crown had also asserted that the mere quantity of Elliott’s tweets posed a threat. In response to this, Knazan writes:
His volume of tweets harassed her because of her view that she could control people’s non-threatening, non-sexual use of her handle and hashtags that she used beyond not reading their tweets and taking the ineffectual step of blocking.
He cannot be imputed with knowledge that Ms. Guthrie was harassed by his tweeting. Mr. Elliott was not responsible for that view, which is at least arguably incompatible with Twitter.
It’s also worth nothing that although Knazan was critical of some of the words Elliot chose, he also said that Elliot often tweeted "to explain himself" and that "each aspect of his tweeting is legitimate."
Christie Blatchford of the National Post, who sat through much of the trial, declared Knazan’s judgement sound. I agree, and if Knazan’s own choice of words is anything to go by, it’s clear he felt sympathy for Guthrie—he frequently acknowledged her honesty—but sided with Elliott and his right to speak freely, especially on a forum as wide open as Twitter.
The devil in the details is that Elliott’s manner only became insulting after a prolonged and comprehensive provocation, one that Guthrie participated in fully if not always directly.
The overall sense of Knazan’s judgement is that while Elliott’s behavior was not wise, it was certainly understandable.
Canada’s liberal media has already cherry-picked Knazan’s words, with the CBC proclaiming, "There is no doubt that Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly were harassed by Gregory Alan Elliott..."
Actually, there’s a lot of doubt, if Knazan’s judgement is read in its entirety.
But it seems our nation’s broadcaster isn’t very interested in writing about or upholding our rights to free speech. After a recent announcement that all articles concerning aboriginals will go comment-less, the CBC’s editors seem more interested in babysitting those they consider fragile than fulfilling their mandate to keep Canadians informed.
It’s social engineering of precisely the sort Guthrie and her friends were trying to legitimize, using Canada's harassment laws to do so.
Luckily for Canadians, Judge Knazan, in his 85-page verdict, had the wisdom to say no.
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