The Burnaby B.C., man at the centre of a landmark cross-border online harassment case has been found guilty of criminal harassment by a Vancouver jury after 11 hours of deliberation in B.C. Supreme Court.
Patrick Fox was accused of tormenting his ex-wife with emails and a vulgar website that used her name — Desiree Capuano — targeting work places and neighbourhoods where she lived in Arizona with Google ads that directed traffic to the insulting site.
He was found guilty Wednesday of criminal harassment and a secondary firearms offence.
The case garnered worldwide attention as one of the first Canadian attempts to use the charge of criminal harassment to counter online attacks.
Old law, new application
"This case signals that the law that was written decades ago can still apply in an internet context," said David Fraser, an internet and privacy lawyer based out of Halifax at McInnes Cooper.
Fraser said the guilty verdict sends a message.
"The individual was pretty calculating in order to come close to the [legal] line but not go over. What this does is it adjusts that line. So If somebody is going to engage in this conduct it's not necessarily going to be ignored and there may be significant legal consequences."
Closing arguments wrapped up Monday in the case that aired the former couple's "nasty banter" as they tried to navigate co-parenting of their teen son.
In closing, Fox's lawyer urged the jury to judge his client by the test for criminal harassment, not their personal like or dislike of the man, his vulgar language or his actions.
The test to convict a person of criminal harassment involves proving repeated communication, threatening conduct and reasonable cause for fear of physical, emotional or psychological harm.
Tony Lagemaat characterized the back and forth between Fox and Capuano as an intense custody dispute turned sour, not a series of threats that left Fox's ex-wife fearful.
But Crown counsel Mark Myhre argued Capuano was tormented, fearful and despondent after years of dealing with Fox's "all-consuming hatred" of her.
"He would like to see her dead. And he actually did try to make that happen," Myhre told the 12-member jury.
Myhre gave examples of times Fox asked Capuano why she didn't just give up, saying the world would be better without her.
But during cross-examination, Fox's lawyer asked Capuano why she initiated emails and "taunted and provoked" Fox with cutting insults, if she feared him.
Lagemaat urged the jury to review Capuano's "demeanor" and note discrepancies, such as the fact she cried during direct evidence but became defensive and hostile during cross-examination.
Fox never took the stand in his defence but did represent himself on a secondary charge involving firearms that he allegedly shipped to a friend in Los Angeles.
He was also found guilty of possession of a firearm where not authorized.
A key piece of evidence in the Fox case was an email in which he explained what he had told his son, who asked if Fox would ever shoot his mother, Capuano.
Fox wrote that he would have "no qualms" about shooting her if — as the Crown noted in court — "he could get away with it."
But he was also clear in the same email that he would never "deliberately cause physical harm."
With files from Natalie Clancy