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A Brave New World for Canada: Online Arguments and Criminal Harassment

January 22, 2016

In what many consider to be the first case of its kind in Canada, a man was charged with criminal harassment for comments he made on social media about two women he was having an active disagreement with. A recent "not guilty" verdict has made headlines around the nation and created a social media furor of its own, and while the arguing amongst armchair lawyers isn't all that important there are some elements of this case that are.

If you'll indulge a Calgary defence lawyer who admits to being pretty happy with the outcome in this case, I'd like to briefly look into a few.

It Takes a Lot to Make Speech Criminal Harassment

I won't delve into the legal particularities of this case, not least because I'm not familiar enough with them to make intelligent enough comment, but the judge's 80-page ruling made a few general points of law that are worth noting.

First, freedom of speech is sacrosanct under the law; there's a high bar for making any speech (spoken or written) criminal, and in cases of harassment there are several standards the judge ruled needed to be met. The "not guilty" verdict was arrived at largely because the comments made failed to meet these standards: there was no threat of violence, nothing overtly sexual in nature, and the accused couldn't reasonably be aware that his speech was being viewed as "harassment" by the alleged victims in the case.

In short, the accused never made explicit or implicit threats against the alleged victims, and despite a high number of tweets the judge said were sometimes vulgar the accused had no reason to believe the alleged victims felt threatened.

On that note…

It Takes Two to Tango

One of the central elements in the case, at least from my perspective as a criminal defence lawyer (and from the perspective of the defence lawyer actually representing the accused in this case), is the fact that all parties involved—the accused and the two alleged victims—continued to tweet about each other even after "blocking" each others' Twitter accounts.

In other words, the two alleged victims could not directly see any of the comments the accused was making, and the accused made no attempt to directly contact the alleged victims but in fact took steps to end direct contact.

Differences of opinion regarding gender equality and how it should be achieved is at the heart of the substance of the tweets in question, but that subject matter isn't germane to the question of criminality. The fact is, the accused and the alleged victims both continued to tweet about the other after blocking each other, and were involved in a two-way argument that also involved many other voices on each side (including third parties who would relay information about the tweets that couldn't be viewed directly). The two alleged victims were active participants and continued to tweet disparagingly about the accused just as he did about them.

Equality means being treated fairly under the law, and a harassment charge for one party in this incident would certainly not have spelled justice.

A Calgary Criminal Defence Lawyer Who Always Fights for Fairness

I'm not great at arguing on Twitter, but I argue passionately—and effectively—for your defence with law enforcement, Crown prosecutors, juries, and judges. For a free initial consultation with one of Calgary's leading criminal defence lawyers, please contact my office today.


This entry was posted on January 22, 2016


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