As It Happens

'I live with fear,' says Montreal borough mayor whose harasser was acquitted of criminal charges

A judge ruled that although Sue Montgomery was harassed, it didn't meet the criteria for criminality because the Crown could not prove she feared for her safety.

A judge found that Sue Montgomery was harassed, but that it didn't meet the criteria for criminality

Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Mayor Sue Montgomery says she lives in fear of the man who was acquitted Thursday on three counts of criminal harassment. (Sean Henry/CBC)
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A Montreal borough mayor says her life is about to get a lot scarier now that the man who has been harassing her for 20 years was acquitted on criminal charges. 

Robert Michael Edgar, 59, was acquitted on Thursday of three counts of criminal harassment against Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Mayor Sue Montgomery.

Quebec Court Judge Flavia Longo ruled that while Edgar did repeatedly harass Montgomery, it did not meet the criteria for criminality because the Crown could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she feared for her safety. 

"I live with fear. I live with anger. I live with frustration. I don't know what it's going to take to make this stop," Montgomery told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"Come on. Twenty years. I think any reasonable person would agree that this has gone on too long and needs to stop."

'He would not take no for an answer'

The three charges stemmed from incidents that took place between October and December 2017, when Montgomery was mayor. Edgar would show up regularly at Montgomery's council meetings, debates and other public events to confront and film her. 

During that period, he also published one blog post, two Facebook posts and six YouTube videos about her and tagged her on Twitter 17 times. 

Edgar told the Montreal Gazette outside the courthouse that he feels vindicated by the ruling. 

"Everything I'm doing in terms of Sue Montgomery is perfectly legitimate," he said.

In a series of messages to As It Happens over Twitter, voicemail and email, Edgar reiterated that the judge found him not guilty of criminal harassment and accused Montgomery of "spinning a false narrative" in order to "silence" and "discredit" him.

"I am not stalking her, nor am I inclined to physical violence, I am just subjecting her to well deserved public criticism," he said. 

Montgomery says her right to live without fear takes precedence over Robert Michael Edgar's right to protest her. (CBC)

Montgomery first met Edgar 20 years ago when he was protesting outside her church in Montreal. 

She was a reporter for the Montreal Gazette at the time and Edgar asked her to write a story about why he had been expelled from the Unitarian Church.

She looked into it, she said, but found no merit to his allegations. 

"He would not take no for an answer and kept asking me to write about it despite my journalistic right to decide whether or not something is a story," she said. 

I don't believe that his right to protest and to say false things about me should take precedence over my right to live without fear.- Sue Montgomery, mayor of Côte-des-Neige NDG 

 

Then in 2014, Montgomery co-founded the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported, using it to discuss her own experiences with sexual assault. 

According to the court ruling, that's when Edgar accused Montgomery of "being complicit in a coverup of sexual abuse" at the church, and "the episodes of harassment ... escalated."

"If anyone knows my track record as a journalist, that's the last thing I would have done. I've written all kinds of stories about sexual abuse," she said.

"I'm a survivor of sexual abuse and rape and to have someone falsely telling me, and telling the world, that I am complicit in the coverup of sexual abuse is frankly hurtful and it shouldn't be allowed."

Eventually, Montgomery left journalism to pursue a life in politics.

Edgar remained a regular presence in her life, even though she says she asked him repeatedly to leave her alone. 

At one point he told her "the tougher the cookie, the harder the crumble," the court ruling says. Another time, he demanded she "show penance and apologize."

Montgomery 'exhibited no signs of fright,' court finds

Longo agreed that Edgar's behaviour met several of the criteria for criminal harassment — namely that he harassed Montgomery, and that he either knew it or was "willfully blind" to it.

But, she said, it failed to meet another key criteria — that the harassment caused her to fear for her safety.

The judge pointed to March 2018 video that shows Montgomery confronting Edgar when he showed up at the church to protest in violation of court orders. 

In the video, Montgomery is seen pushing Edgar's protest signs onto the street and standing in "close proximity" to him for eight minutes while waiting for the police to arrive.

"Her face and body language exhibited no signs of fright," the judge noted. 

Montgomery says she was acting "out of anger and frustration" and that she's being punished for not being "a good victim."

"I think anyone would understand my exasperation after 20 years of this," she said.

Time to challenge the law, Montgomery says

Montgomery says that while there's nothing she can do about the judge's findings, she wants to challenge the element of criminal harassment law that requires the court to demonstrate a complainant's fear. 

"Because as we know, everybody shows fear differently," she said. "There are times when I cry when he does these things. There are times when I get angry. There's a whole range of emotions, and there's quite a bit of frustration attached to it."

She plans to lobby the federal justice minister and her MP, she said. 

Meanwhile, she says she doesn't want Edgar to go to jail. Instead, she wants him to get the help she believes he needs.

"I don't believe that his right to protest and to say false things about me should take precedence over my right to live without fear," she said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Kevin Robertson.