On Friday morning Ontario Court Judge Brent Knazan is expected to give his ruling on the Gregory Alan Elliott Twitter trial. Elliott was charged with criminal harassment in 2012 for his communications with three politically connected social justice warriors over Twitter- the case has implications over all of our online freedom. I’ll be there to report and will be live tweeting as information comes available- find me on Twitter @grenouf.
The media’s coverage of Elliot’s case has been generally dismal- some stories contained outright defamatory claims, others looked a whole lot like vindictive attacks. In July 2015 Christie Blatchford wrote an accurate analysis of the case’s weaknesses and its implications on free speech- this was followed by a wave of hate, smears, and misinformation attacks from people who didn’t agree with her analysis.
There are some powerful stakeholders standing behind the curtains, some might have difficult questions to answer if Elliott wins- cops, city councillors, journalists, and the Crown to name a few. If the media’s response to Friday’s ruling is anything like it’s been in the past there’s a solid chance Canadians will be flooded a tidal wave of misinformation over the weekend. In the interest of helping ensure there’s more truth and less shameless spin- here are eight key facts every journalist and Canadian should know before tomorrow’s decision:
8. The Charges Are, Literally, “Creepy”
One of the core elements in Canada’s Criminal Code defining criminal harassment is that the alleged victim must have felt threatened by the actions of the accused. Arresting officer Jeff Banglid testified on the stand that Elliott never threatened the alleged victims, none of the tweets entered show evidence of threats or aggression. So, what did the Crown base Elliott’s charges on?
The answer to that question is, literally, “creepy”. Guthrie testified on the stand that the first time she met Elliott in-person he made her feel “creepy”. Of course, this happened long before Guthrie cut-off communications with Elliott and her communications with him after that meeting were friendly and inviting.
7. Elliott Followed Twitter’s Rules
As Elliott’s lawyer stated in his final submission, the court was shown zero evidence that Elliott violated Twitter’s rules. Twitter is the electronic version of Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park- as long as people not communicating threats, Twitter allows users to shout over each other as much as they please. Sometimes this sucks, other times it breeds exciting debates.
Twitter allows people to make complaints about fellow user’s behavior. The company might respond by imposing temporary suspensions or shutting down the user’s account. Elliott’s account is still operational and there’s no evidence it was ever was suspended. It’s kind of scary, but it appears that the Crown is saying they have the right to override Twitter’s rules. There are so many ways this could go pear shaped- video gamers might want to be careful who they target in 1st person shooters.
6. The Alleged Victims Were Vicious And Deceptive
Elliott’s conflict with Guthrie and her friends started when she set off on a crusade against a Bendelin Spurr- a young man who made a game depicting social justice warrior Anita Sarkeesian getting punched in the face. Guthrie accused Spurr of making a “misogynist” game and proceeded to – in her own words – “sic the Internet on him” to convict “the fuck” in the court of public opinion. Guthrie’s accusation that the game was misogynist was quickly debunked, Spurr previously made a similar game about a man- both were digital equivalents of voodoo dolls.
Elliott responded to Guthrie saying that her attacks against Spurr were “every bit as vicious as the face-punch game.” When Elliott’s defense asked Guthrie if she was concerned her attacks against Spurr could result in his being harmed, she unabashedly stated that she was okay with that. When the defense repeated the question, Guthrie once again made it very clear she believed he deserved whatever was coming to him.
In November 2012, a few weeks before Elliott was charged with criminal harassment, Guthrie and others started spreading misinformation that Elliott was a Pedophile. Guthrie testified that she knew rumours about Elliott propositioning an underage girl weren’t true, but neglected to tell Detective Banglid because “I wasn’t trying to harm him unduly, but I was not trying to help him.”
In August 2012 the alleged victims and their friends appear to have been making great efforts to discredit and ridicule Elliott. Astrid Idlewild created the hashtag #GAEhole which was used dozens of times- often partnered with vicious attacks against his character. Look out for more of the same after the case has been decided, it’s bound to come.
5. City Councillors Encouraged WiToPoli Members To “Cyberbully”
A few months before Elliott was charged, he and Guthrie attended a Women In Toronto Politics meeting where city councillors Shelley Carroll and Kristyn Wong-Tam called on young women to “cyberbully” people. Carroll literally said:
“I don’t think we use it nearly as much as we should to call people out on things like that. We get called out, heaven knows, by the cyberbullies that I’ve mentioned. Where’s our cyberbullies, why aren’t we bullying the people that say things like that.”
Wong-Tam explained how it can be a good thing when a woman is called a “c##t” online- it gives the opportunity to fight back, “and you know they’re all trolls”:
“So that is the power of Twitter as well. Is that you also get to expose the nasty bits of people who are out there – and you know that they are all trolls – so the threats, although public, are public for everyone and you get to track it down. So that’s the good side, and the bad side.”
It appears that Women in Toronto Politics suffer from the worst kind of role models…
4. The Greatest Lie Made By Guthrie’s Supporters
When Blatchford’s story was published in July 2015 Stephanie Guthrie’s friends and supporters got their nasty on with a swarm of vicious attacks. As expected, there was a lot of misinformation flying around- one of their biggest lies was that Guthrie was forbidden from speaking out to defend herself.
There’s no requirement that Guthrie stays silent. There were good reasons for her to do so, but she crossed the line speaking with the media only days after Elliott was charged. Then, in April 2015, Guthrie showed incredibly bad judgment making a false claim that Elliott might have sent her a death threat. Of course, she didn’t take it to the police, she instead chose to take it to the court of public opinion.
3. Fuzzy Memories Of A “Secret” Meeting To Stop Elliott
One of the most shocking moments in Elliott’s trial was when it was when Guthrie admitted that she and her friends held a secret meeting about Gregory Alan Elliott in August, 2012. The event was held at the home of (former) alleged victim Paisley Rae- other participants included alleged victims Stephanie Guthrie & Heather Reiley, and their friends Rachel MacKenzie, and @PopeShakey (who’s managed to keep their name secret through the trial).
Curiously, Guthrie and fellow alleged victim Heather Reiley couldn’t remember who else attended the meeting- neither could they remember details about what was discussed at the meeting.
2. Alleged Victim Had Close Relationships With The Police
If you’re one of the inquiring minds who’s wondering how such a weak case could have ever been filed by Toronto Police, you might find this next part of the story interesting. Paisley Rae was magically dropped from the case before her testimony was to be heard, but she had an incredibly close relationship with Toronto police at the time the charges were laid.
Rae’s connection with the Toronto Police Service got started in the aftermath of the riots and mass arrests of the 2010 G20. Rae worked with Const Scott Mills during the TPS’ 2011 Fugitive Conference. In 2012 she travelled to the #SmileCon conference in Vancouver where she met with Deputy Chief Sloly and Mills. Rae is listed as a social media consultant in the TPS’ 2013 PACER Report, the same year she helped raise $7,500 to make a video about carding for the Policing Literacy Initiative.
But Paisley Rae’s connections with the police go deeper than professional interactions, she and Scott Mills both helped organize #ChillCon, an event where TPS’ social media cops could chill down for drinks with civillians at the Cadillac Lounge. When Mills set up a nonprofit online crisis intervention project Paisley Rae was listed on the board of directors.
One of the most disturbing incidents demonstrating Rae’s closeness with the Police happened during the 2013 #SmileCon conference where Detective Banglid made a presentation titled “Investigations Involving the Internet & Social Media.” The detective got into the details of Elliott’s case, including showing a picture of Elliott and his sons (with the faces blocked out). Paisley Rae – while still an alleged victim – live-tweeted as Banglid boasted about Elliott’s bust. How could this ever be acceptable?
What’s all this then officers?
1. The Crown Really Screwed-Up
The court held a special hearing on August 5, 2015 to address what the Crown claimed was a serious mistake. Elliott was charged for “knowingly” harassing the alleged victims, but the Crown claimed in her closing statements that he “either knowingly or recklessly” harassed them. So, basically, she changed the charges at the end of the case.
The judge responded saying “there can be no conviction for something for which Elliott is not charged.” The Crown claimed the omission of the word “recklessly” was an oversight, the defense rightly argued that he might have argued the case differently if he knew Elliott’s mens rea included recklessness.
Judge Knazan promised in a September follow-up hearing that he’d make a ruling on how to proceed before he gives his final ruling on Friday. This opens up a third possibility beyond a verdict of innocent or guilty- there’s a slight possibility the case could end up being thrown out. Justice for none.