The site of rainbow flags and the sounds of Top 40 music flowed through the downtown on Saturday afternoon as over 30 people marched in support of a Guelph couple sued in a Twitter spat with Guelph Medical Imaging. Organized by a pair of United Church ministers, the message from the participants – young and old, straight and queer, cis gendered or non-binary – was that there’s no place for homophobia in Guelph.
“As a Christian pastor, standing on the grounds of a Christian church that welcomes all people of the rainbow spectrum as full sisters and brothers, I affirm that all people are created in the image of God,” said Reverend Ryk Brown from St. James United Church in Waterdown, one of the two congregations organizing Saturday’s march.
“All people are loved by God, being queer or trans is not a sin. Anyone who teaches that being yourself or loving who you love is sinful, they are wrong. Their words are contrary to the words of Jesus Christ Himself, who taught us to love our neighbours as ourselves,” Brown added as he addressed everyone pre-march in the parking lot of the Dublin Street United Church.
To recap, last summer the CEO of Guelph Medical Imaging brought a $6 million suit against Guelph couple Stephanie and Kathryn Evans-Bitten. Stephanie had responded to a couple of tweets posted by CEO Probhash Mondal to the GMI account that she found homophobic, and Mondal’s suit said her colour commentary on the tweets were “defamatory” and demonstrated a “personal animus” towards Mondal himself.
Back in March, an Ontario Superior Court justice threw out the suit, and agreed with the argument of the Evans-Bittens’ attorney that Mondal was pursuing a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP suit. Justice Edward M. Morgan said in his decision that, “Mr. Mondal jumped into the turbulent river of Twitter commentary with some vulgarly worded observations that touched a nerve with the defendants. He got it back as good as he gave it, and got wet in the process.”
Still, Mondal is now pursuing an appeal of Morgan’s decision, more legal action that Brown says is putting unfair financial pressure on the Evans-Bittens.
“Steph and Kat have now put out over $50,000 in there own defense, and that could double as they now have to go back to the court to defend against the appeal,” Brown said. A GoFundMe was set up to help support the couple, and it’s so far collected just over $19,000 with a goal of $25,000.
“A reasonable person who may have been concerned about their professional image, may have chosen to take the high road and simply apologized for their tweets, removed them and offered to do better in the future using this as a learning opportunity,” Brown said, adding that he was choosing his words carefully given the litigious nature of the situation.
“Instead, the owner of the clinic attacked back with a $6 million defamation lawsuit not just against Ms. Evans-Bitten, but also against her wife and two others who were not involved in the Twitter exchange.”
Neither of the Evans-Bittens were at the march on Saturday because Stephanie was at home recovering after a recent stay in the hospital, and Kathryn was seeing to her care. “We felt the love (I’m at home recovering from major surgery)…, and thank everyone in the Guelph community who have supported us through this ordeal!” Stephanie said responding a post about the march on Instagram.
Also notably absent was Reverend Bruce Dickson, the pastor of Dublin Street United Church. Brown said that his fellow minister had flu-like symptoms and was staying away out of an abundance of caution. Sadly, it might not be the last opportunity for Dickson, or anyone, to demonstrate on the matter.
“If this doesn’t change the situation for Steph and Kat, then we’ll be back again,” Brown said. He helped organize a protest in front of Guelph Medical Imaging last August, and he feels like he will likely have to return in the future. “I received a phone call from Mr. Mandel [last summer], he tracked me down and I won’t go into the content of the phone call, but I will simply say that it left me deeply upset.”
The march departed Dublin Street United Church, and headed down to Guelph Medical Imaging’s Cardigan Street Office, and the group demonstrated across the street in Goldie Mill Park.