GAE Twitter Trial: Apology Hearing Raises Questions Of Injustice & Journalistic Integrity (Feat. Toronto Star)

Greg Elliott: Innocent, but still getting screwed over

Greg Elliott: Innocent, but still getting screwed over

On January 22nd, Gregory Alan Elliott was found innocent of criminal harassment after a prolonged two-way disagreement with two politically connected social justice warriors. There were originally three complainants but the third, who had a working relationship with the Toronto Police Service’s social media team, was mysteriously withdrawn from the case just moments before she was scheduled to testify.

Elliott lost his job, his reputation was smeared by a gang of journalists closely related to the complainants, he fell deep into debt, and was forced to to cash-in a lifetime of savings he’d built up in his pension. Sadly, the injustice against Elliott continued long after he was found innocent. The smears continued in the media, including shameful coverage by the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star & NewsTalk 1010, and a shameful and defaming radio broadcast by an anti-bullying advocate. The complainant’s friends continue to gaslight and smear Elliott online to this day.

Unfortunately, despite having been found not guilty, Elliott’s reputation was further damaged by a mistake in the court’s final ruling- mistakenly attributing a homophobic tweet made by a Twitter account created to impersonate him. A hearing was held yesterday for the judge to correct the error. The results opened up new questions about the credibility of Ontario’s justice system- and Canada’s most widely read newspaper.

What Happened In Court?

Evidence of Criminal Mischief?

Evidence of Criminal Mischief?

Many people perceive judges by the pompous, out of touch, moody, and arrogant stereotypes they see on TV. Judge Brent Knazan comes across as the exact opposite, a friendly and tolerant human being who drops his ego when he enters the court. In the two years I’ve watched him during Elliott’s trial he came across as friendly and fair.

It took only a few minutes after the start of the hearing for Knazan to share his mea culpa. He made no effort to cover himself or shift away the blame and stated very clearly that he agreed with the defence’s claim- his statement attributing a homophobic tweet to Gregory Alan Elliott was a tragic mistake.

Elliott’s defence responded by requesting that the judge makes an addendum to his final ruling. He explained how the court’s error was echoed in newspapers around the world and read out some of the quotes from stories published after the judge’s not guilty ruling. After reading out a quote from Desmond Cole’s story in the Toronto Star, he pointed out the writer’s ad-hominem attack- comparing Elliott’s charges to the story of a man who murdered a woman.

The defence was incredibly apologetic towards the judge, one can imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been for a lawyer who’d likely stand before the judge in the future. At one point Knazan responded saying “you don’t have to defend me, thank you, but I have all kinds of protections”. But despite the judge’s kind reassurance, the defence continued to tread gently and speak with the utmost respect.

Despite how obvious and damaging the mistake was, the Crown still felt the need to provide some resistance. She explained that how “it could open up the floodgates to problems in future cases” if the judge made an addendum after the trial had already been decided.

“This is not about guilt or innocence, but clearly is only about Elliott’s reputation,” stated Crown attorney Marni Goldenberg (as if she hadn’t done enough damage taking him to trial with an embarrassingly weak case). After claiming that she’s “not trying to deny” Elliott’s right to have the mistake fixed, she jumped into case law with an argument against making a correction.

The Judge explained how he hadn’t originally seen the homophobic tweet, saying it was hidden away on the spreadsheet created by the software used to collect the evidence. He finally noticed it after he “expanded” the spreadsheet’s tables. He mistakenly believed the tweet was Elliott’s because the fake account it was posted from used the same picture as Elliott’s account.

The Crown and police’s decision to gather evidence using Sysomos’ software was a massive mistake that reeks of malpractice and incompetence. The software was only able to collect tweets from unlocked accounts, and was unable to collect tweets that already been deleted. It’s a bad joke to imply this was a valid way to collect evidence. They only valid way to have collected the evidence would have been to subpoena it from Twitter. The big question we must ask is why didn’t they bother to do this?

The most eye-opening moment of Friday’s hearing was then the judge speculated that the person who created the impersonation account might have committed a crime. This could be seen as criminal mischief,” claimed the judge. Elliott’s defence agreed, claiming that “there certainly is evidence of mischief by the person who created the parody accounts.”

It’s important to note that complainant Stephanie Guthrie’s Twitter account @amirightfolks was included in the tweet, and another person in the thread stated very clearly it came from a fake account. Guthrie was in the courtroom when the judge read it out in his final ruling, she made no effort to contact the court and notify the judge of the mistake. This is similar to the situation where Guthrie admitted on the stand that she knew that allegations that Elliott was a “pedophile” were inaccurate, but neglected to disclose this information to the police because she didn’t want to help him.

After a short recess, the judge came back to read out his statement expressing that he’d made a mistake attributing the homophobic tweet to Gregory Alan Elliott. He agreed there was a need to make an addendum to his final ruling, the Crown and defence agreed there was no need to come back later in the day to hear him read it.

Toronto Star Plays Dirty

Desmond Cole plays dirty

Desmond Cole plays dirty

It only took a few days after Elliott was arrested for Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias to write a dirty ad-hominem attack. Zerbisias’ story was the main reason I was interested in the case. She was very angry after I wrote a story criticising her for glorifying an unrepentant ringleader of violence at the 2010 G20 as a brave jailhouse activist fighting for the rights of fellow prisoners. Shortly after I published my story she responded publicly threatening to include me in her smear against Elliott.

Zerbisias’ story about Elliott’s arrest kicked-off talking about the heinous case of bullying that helped drove Amanda Todd to commit suicide. Besides her shameless use of ad-hominems; Zerbisias neglected to disclose her relationship with Stephanie Guthrie, her anger with Elliott for calling out her dishonesty and incompetence over Twitter, and the fact the Star had previously published an article by Stephanie Guthrie attacking former mayor Rob Ford.

History repeated itself a few days after Elliott’s not guilty ruling when Desmond Cole responded to the judgement with another ad-hominem attack- this time kicking-off with the story about a murderer. Cole’s story made a serious mistake claiming that the judge accused Elliott’s of making “misogynistic” tweets. This never happened.

Bad faith at the Toronto Star

Bad faith at the Toronto Star

Elliott’s lawyer contacted the Star and requested they make a correction- it took them a few days to do so, long after most people would have read it. But when they finally made the correction, despite the fact it was widely known the judge had made a mistake, the Star demonstrated what many view as bad faith- replacing the word “misogynistic” with “homophobic”.

Star writer Dan Taekema was the only other journalist who showed up to Friday’s hearing. I took the opportunity during the recess to make him aware that Cole’s story wasn’t the only to use nasty ad hominem smears. I politely explained how I enjoy much of the Star’s content, but articles like Zerbisas and Cole’s take a real hit on the newspaper’s credibility. He asked if I’d like to be interviewed but I politely declined- explaining that I’m not judging him as an individual, but I can no longer trust the Toronto Star to do the right thing.

Taekema’s story was published later that day. The good news is that, unlike his colleagues, his report avoided using ad hominems and only stuck to the facts. The bad news is that Desmond Cole’s hit piece hasn’t been changed to notify readers the judge mistakenly accused him of making homophobic tweets.

Unfortunately, Cole’s story was more widely shared and ranks higher in Google’s search engine than the Taekema’s. This means it’s entirely likely that people Googling for stories about Elliott’s trial will never find out that there was a correction. Considering this, and the fact the Star neglected to disclose to their readers that Cole has a working relationship with two of Elliott’s complainants- it seems very clear that the Toronto Star cannot be trusted.

Closing Thoughts

Woolley (left) Guthrie (right) on night after Elliott's arrest

Globe and Mail’s Emma Woolley (left) and Stephanie Guthrie (right) on night after Elliott’s arrest

After watching this trial from start-to-finish, digging deep into the evidence, understanding the behaviour of the complainants and their friends, and learning how deeply connected they were with the Toronto Police- I’m left with deep concerns about the state of Ontario’s justice system.

I’m deeply concerned that the real victim of criminal harassment was Gregory Alan Elliott. Guthrie took it upon herself to create real life consequences for Elliott- spending months smearing him online as a “misogynist” and going as far as to misrepresent the truth to the police about allegations Elliott was a “paedophile”.

The judge’s statement on Friday about his concerns the person using the fake account comitted criminal mischief only helped to solidify my concerns. The account was clearly created to trick people into thinking it was Elliott’s, it was filled with vile language and disturbing images. If not an example of criminal harassment, perhaps it was criminal defamation?

Elliott’s lawyer told the Toronto Star on Friday that if the Toronto Police are serious about combatting online harassment it’s imperative they start an investigation into who created the fake account. Continuing their pattern of dirty reporting, the Star neglected to include this important statement in their story.

I sincerely hope that Elliott takes the time to walk into a police station and demand they start an investigation. His life was torn apart by this case and the police demonstrated gross incompetence in handling the evidence. They owe it to him, and to the public at large, to treat this incident with as much urgency as they did the accusations made by his accusers. The credibility of Ontario’s justice system is at-risk, their refusal to investigate would be a tragic mistake.

As for the Toronto Star, they owe it to Elliott – and to the credibility of their staff and contributors – to note the correction in Desmond Cole’s story. Elliott’s case is a shameful part of their history, the newspaper experienced serious losses last year- if they continue this sort behaviour, they won’t deserve any tears if they’re eventually forced to shut down.

Permanent link to this article: