Courtroom 125 was quickly packed when the doors opened on Friday morning. Gregory Alan Elliott’s family and friends congregated towards the right side of the gallery, Stephanie Guthrie and her supporters on the left, and journalists dotted in-between. The room was overflowing by the time the judge walked in, he first ordered extra chairs and later allowed observers to sit in the empty chairs normally reserved for a jury.
Judge Brent Knazan stepped up to the bench with a whoppingly large 89-page ruling and warned observers to look forward to a long day as he read through all of it. Moments before he started reading, the judge matter-of-factly looked up and said “oh, and Mr Elliott, you’ve been found not guilty.” It came so quickly I looked next to Lauren Southern to confirm, she nodded saying yes and we both tweeted out the good news.
But despite the liberating feeling of the judge’s ruling – Twitter will stay free place for the time being – there was one part that left a bitter taste in my mouth. The judge stated four separate times that Elliott had made homophobic comments, a stain on a historic and important court victory. I was having a difficult time reconciling my conversations with Mr Elliott with the person who wrote “Enjoy your AIDS, #TOpoli faggots”. How could this be the same man? Well, it turns out it wasn’t Elliott’s tweet.
So with a dark soul I visited the online version of the judge’s ruling and searched for the word “homophobic”, it wasn’t until the fourth time the word was used that I found Elliott’s alleged posting. My heart sunk a little further when I foind the full text- What sort of an animal would say this!
“Below that tweet is a tweet from Mr. Elliott: “@tapesonthefloor @rachelmack @amirightfolks You have accomplished nothing, and you will fall. Enjoy your AIDS, #TOpoli faggots.”
But then I looked a little closer and realised there was a mistake; the tweet was made by @greg_a_eliott, Elliott’s Twitter handle is @greg_a_elliott. The first account is a fake that uses one less “l” in “elliott”, it’s a vicious fake too- the account only had 24 posts, most were crude or obscene including a photograph of a penis. Whoever set it up clearly had the intention to damage Elliott’s reputation.
It appears that the comment was erased from the fake account, but it was forwarded and commented on by a hipster whose Twitter account is @tapesonthefloor:
It wasn’t only the court that was tricked by the fake account, Ethan Cox of Rhichochet.ca (formerly of Rabble.ca) fell for it too and was just as disgusted as I was. It’s interesting to see that Cox was part of the attacks. He’s not known to be a champion of accurate reporting, so it’s not unexpected he’d make the mistake- but how could the court?
Another question that needs to be asked is how did this tweet get into evidence? The judge discusses this in the section of the decision titled “The Proof that Mr. Elliott Sent the Tweets Attributed to Him.” Toronto Police Det Banglid used a social media tool named Sysomos to gather-up the defendant and formerly alleged victim’s tweets, Sysomos has real weaknesses as a forensic tool as it can’t collect tweets that have been deleted or from protected accounts.
The judge used the fact that “Elliott’s” homophobic tweet wasn’t picked-up by Sysomos as evidence of the software’s lack of reliability for the purpose for which it was used. He seems to be right about that, it’s hard to justify only collecting half of the evidence, but it appears that he failed to realize this tweet was a fake.
As much as it’s a relief to learn that the accusation was false, it’s equally disturbing to read through media reports accusing Elliott of making homophobic comments. The message went out globally in a report in The Guardian, the CBC mentioned it, VICE did of course, and a host of other publications who’ve mentioned the judge’s statement about homophobic comments.
It would appear that a serious injustice has been done, Elliott’s name has been smeared with false accusations yet one more time. Elliott’s family are unable to comment until they speak with their lawyer, let’s hope that he’s able to get the judge to issue an apology and that the media will do the right thing and cover the story as enthusiastically as they did his alleged remarks.
More to come on this story in the near future, and please stay tuned for a deeper analysis of the judge’s ruling and what it means for Canadians, and the people of Toronto.