News / Canada

Women had a right to fight back, Crown argues in Toronto Twitter harassment trial

The women at the centre of a groundbreaking Twitter harassment trial had every right to fight back against the man accused of harassing them, the Crown has argued.

Gregory Alan Elliott was charged in November 2012 with criminal harassment for Twitter conduct aimed at Toronto feminists Steph Guthrie and Heather Reilly. It is believed to be the first case of alleged criminal harassment to spring from Twitter behaviour.

Crown lawyer Marnie Goldenberg submitted her arguments to the court in writing and declined media requests to release copies. She granted Metro permission to read them on Tuesday.

Whether or not Guthrie and Reilly were reasonably afraid of Elliott is central to the legal claim of criminal harassment. Both said they were, and testified that some of Elliott's tweets made it obvious he knew where they were and what they were doing.

"Mr. Elliot sent copious amounts of obsessive, harassing tweets where he tweeted 'at' the complainants, mentioned their handles, mentioned the hashtags created by Ms. Guthrie, sent subtweets at the complainants, monitored their feeds, etc. He did this knowing that they blocked him and that they did not want contact with him,” Goldenberg wrote.

Citing Guthrie's testimony, Goldenberg took issue with the defence position that Guthrie and Reilly must not have been truly afraid of Elliott because they called him out — even taunted him — on Twitter.

“There is no perfect victim,” Guthrie said at trial. “And there’s no perfect way to respond to being stalked, and I am… You don’t always just hide away. Sometimes you fight back a little bit.”

“Why should the complainants not be allowed to speak out against their harasser and warn others?” Goldenberg wrote. “Why should the complainants be criticized for speaking with their friends about being harassed? ... (They) should be allowed to do so without fear that the actions of the harasser will be minimized. Just because they speak out, does not mean that they are not fearful and the harasser's actions are not aggravating and serious."

“Respectfully, there is nothing wrong with Ms. Guthrie being proactive. She is a strong articulate woman who wanted to speak out for others. She cared about other women and ‘their right to be on the internet without having their boundaries crossed by a creep,’” Goldenberg continued.

The defence made a closing argument orally in court last week. Also now available online via a crowdfunding campaign set up for Elliott by his sons, the argument characterizes the Twitter interactions as part of  “an ugly political debate during which both sides resorted to childish name-calling."

“It is ultimately submitted that the complainants’ fear was not objectively reasonable because, in the end, Canadian politicos who decide to dish insults out to their opponents cannot reasonably be fearful if their political opponents decide to dish it right back,” argued defence lawyer Christopher Murphy.

Guthrie has received online threats, including that she should kill her herself and be tortured to death, since coverage of the defence argument.

The judge’s decision is expected in October.