Gregory Elliot, a Toronto graphic artist, was charged with criminally harassing two women by sending a number of tweets. The charge of criminal harassment has five elements.
Among other things considered, the prosecution must prove that the communication caused the complainants to fear for their safety, and that the fear was reasonable in all the circumstances.
This is not a case about any physical or sexual harassment or threats. Mr. Elliot was engaged in communication on Twitter, which as described by Judge Brent Knazan, “is an alternative to the mass media.”
Based on the evidence before the Court, the charges against Ms. Elliot were ultimately dismissed. The complainants’ fear was deemed to be largely based on a “view that there is privacy in Twitter and that one account holder can dictate what another account holder tweets,” and this was not objectively reasonable. Judge Knazan also confirmed that “Twitter is not private, by definition and in its essence.” Moreover, “asking a person to stop reading one’s feed from a freely chosen open account is not reasonable,” Knazan said.
It is sound of the judge to conclude that participating on social media by way of an open or public account waives your right to privacy in your tweets. The decision is another positive piece of Canadian jurisprudence on the issue of freedom of expression.
***Alex Valova is a Toronto-based barrister and a Brock alumni. She has partnered with BUSU and established the Student Legal Clinic.