TORONTO — A Toronto man's repeated and often insulting Twitter interactions with two women's rights activists would not reasonably have led them to fear for their safety, an Ontario judge said Friday in acquitting him of criminal harassment.
There is no doubt that Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly were harassed by Gregory Alan Elliott, either due to the volume or content of his tweets, but that alone does not meet the legal threshold for a conviction, Ontario Court Judge Brent Knazan said.
The two activists testified at the trial that they believe Elliot kept tabs on them and their whereabouts through social media, even after they blocked his account.
"I'm not guilty and everything I did, I thought was within the law, so I don't know if I would change anything."
But Elliott's tweets contained nothing of a "violent or sexual nature," and there was no indication he intended to hurt them, Knazan said.
In his tweets, Elliott was largely explaining himself and furthering his views "however offensive or wrong they may be," the judge said, while recognizing the language could be "vulgar and sometimes obscene."
There were rumblings in the courtroom as the read his decision. Supporters for both sides filled the benches, some even sitting on the floor.
Elliott, who was arrested in November 2012, said outside court the decision proved he had done nothing wrong.
Lawyer: Ruling should reassure social media users
"I'm not guilty and everything I did, I thought was within the law, so I don't know if I would change anything," he said.
"Freedom of speech is about expressing your opinions, your emotions, and if it's taken out of context or misunderstood or misconstrued by others, you shouldn't have that forced upon you."
Shortly afterward, he tweeted for the first time since his arrest: "You can stand for something, but you can't misunderstand for something." - Gregory Alan Elliott #freedomoftweets #thankyou #3years2months
His lawyer Chris Murphy said the ruling should be reassuring to all social media users.
"If you're defending yourself and speaking politically, you don't have to worry about someone's fear being reasonable," he said.
During trial, Murphy had characterized the Twitter interactions — which escalated and saw both sides trade barbs — as "an ugly political debate."
Observers said it is believed to be the first criminal harassment case in Canada involving Twitter.