Conviction in Sask. Trudeau online threat case a rarity, says law prof.
Christopher Hayes of Grayson, Sask., posted comments about prime minister on Facebook
That a Saskatchewan man was convicted of uttering threats against the prime minister on Facebook is a rarity, says a law professor.
Earlier this week, 41-year-old Christopher Hayes of Grayson, Sask., was found guilty of uttering threats due to two posts referring to Justin Trudeau that were filled with profanity and vitriol.
Robert Currie, head of the Law and Technology Institute at Dalhousie University, said the incredible part of the case is that Hayes was indeed found guilty.
"What's unusual about it is that he was convicted," said Currie. "It's not Facebook as the medium that's necessarily revolutionary here because there have been cases in the past, in Canada, where people have been prosecuted."
What we say and what we post on social media platforms like Facebook has real world implications.- Robert Currie
That said, Currie doesn't "think it's a precedent for the ages. The law about the making of threats is not at all affected in this one decision of a provincial court judge."
Currie said when it comes to posts made on social media, oftentimes the image someone portrays is an exaggerated version of themselves. It can be used as a means to vent frustration in a way someone wouldn't do in person.
Social media is also often seen as the last bastion of freedom of speech with no caveats, he said.
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"You cannot simply say anything," said Currie. "What we say and what we post on social media platforms like Facebook has real world implications."
Hayes' 2nd post leads to arrest
The publicly available written decision in Hayes' trial details his posts and the interactions he had with RCMP leading up to his arrest.
During the trial no evidence was called on by the defence.
The first Facebook post made by Hayes on March 6, 2016, uttered violent threats against Justin Trudeau, alleging that the prime minister was a Muslim who stood against Western values. He wrote that he would "cut off the head of the snake myself," and as result would go down in history as "the man who saves Canada."
A month after making his first post, Hayes was visited by Const. Robert Head, who took a statement. Head had been directed to do so by Cpl. Richard Pickering, who headed up the Saskatchewan RCMP's National Security Enforcement Section.
In a his statement, Hayes described how he was "tired of Trudeau," but when the discussion came to following through on his Facebook post, he said he "was not going to go and do that."
Hayes, who had worked on oil fields for 20 years, felt the prime minister didn't care about oil workers. He had been playing video games with colleagues online, while drinking and talking politics, leading up to making his first post.
Am I going to kill him? No, I am not going to kill him.- Christopher Hayes
Head explained to Hayes why his post had crossed the line and explained to him the section of the Criminal Code on uttering threats, which he would later be found guilty of.
In court, Head testified that he believed Hayes understood the mistake he had made and that after being warned by the RCMP, he would not do it again. Pickering testified that he believed the posts constituted a threat but given the warning and Head's discretion, he thought nothing more would come from Hayes.
Then on July 13, 2016, Pickering was notified of another post made by Hayes a few days earlier, which he believed was once again threatening in nature. The second post ultimately led to Hayes' arrest in August.
"Am I going to kill him? No, I am not going to kill him. I would challenge him to 12 rounds in the boxing ring any day of the week," said Hayes during his second statement made to RCMP on Aug. 2, 2016.
During his interview, Hayes agreed with Pickering that he had crossed a line. Hayes also said his mother had encouraged him to stop making threatening posts on Facebook.
Hayes was sentenced in provincial court to nine months of probation. He is also prohibited from owning or shooting any firearm or crossbow for the next five years, is not allowed to own ammunition or explosives, and is subject to a $500 fine.