TORONTO — Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy, but a recent court case in Canada has set a dangerous precedent for the future of the concept. Strangely enough, the following is all pre #Gamergate.
In 2012 graphics artist Gregory Alan Elliott got into a rather unpleasant Twitter exchange with two leading Canadian feminist activists that ended with him in jail.
It all began when Stephanie Guthrie, Heather Reilly and Paisley Rae began publicly shaming the designer of an online game that allowed users to punch prominent video game critic Anita Sarkeesian in the face in 2012. Rae later backed out.
Breitbart reports that she maintained a friendly relationship with Detective Jeff Bangild — the officer in charge of Elliott's case. Twitter archives appear to confirm this.
Guthrie reportedly tweeted that she wanted the designer's "hatred on the internet to impact his real-life experiences." Elliott disagreed, saying the women's online shaming "was every bit as vicious as the face-punch game," the National Post reported.
This Twitter back-and-forth continued, with Elliott calling them out with the hashtag #FacistFeminists on their posts. Reilly testified that she feared Elliott would confront her in real life.
The National Post reported the women even met up to discuss how Elliott could be publicly shamed on the web, including the idea of getting someone to pose as a 13-year-old claiming Elliott was a pedophile.
Now, did Elliott threaten violence and physically harass or cajole these people? Not exactly, he was really rude and a bit of a dick. He spent three days behind bars for essentially calling out leaders of a Twitter mob on their BS.
What's worse is that the Canadian justice system stripped him of his rights to use the Internet, basically depriving him of his ability to earn an income.
Fast-forward three years to 2015, and his family have set up a fundraising campaign to get the cash necessary for his legal fees. The case — originally set to last five days — has transformed into a three-year battle. If found guilty, Elliott could spend six months in jail for criminal harassment.
The fact that a court in Canada even took up this case as a criminal trial has terrifying implications for freedom of speech in the country. If you offend someone online, you could face criminal harassment charges. A concept like that is ripe for abuse.