A far-right vlogger, who built a following by spewing hatred against Muslims, has lost the largest defamation suit regarding online activity in Canadian history.
Kevin J. Johnston, a 47-year-old Mississauga man who runs a network of sites under the name Freedom Report, was ordered to pay Toronto restaurateur Mohamad Fakih $2.5 million on Monday. The decision, written by Ontario Superior Court Justice Jane Ferguson, states that Johnston made several videos targeting Fakih. Ferguson called Johnston’s actions against Fakih “hate speech at its worst.”
In the videos, Johnston called Fakih an “economic terrorist,” said Fakih was a spy working with a Pakistani spy agency, that Fakih was giving money to terrorists, and claimed guests had to be a jihadi or rapist to be allowed entrance to Paramount Fine Foods, Fakih’s restaurant chain. Johnston’s focus on Fakih was seemingly sparked when one of Fakih’s restaurants held a fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017. The hefty amount awarded comes from the fact Johnston’s videos connected Fakih to the term jihadi, something that may have scuttled a potentially lucrative business opportunity.
In Ferguson’s ruling, she outlines that in one incident Johnston accosted Fakih and his family at a mall by calling them terrorists, something that Fakih said left his young children with nightmares. Johnston filmed the encounter and reportedly posted it for a brief time. Johnston used YouTube and Facebook to further his harassment campaign.
Johnston is one of many far-right vloggers who mostly take to YouTube to push anti-Muslim views. Johnston, like others, used platforms to create his own network to promote his noxious views: He has at least three Facebook pages—one of which acts as his homepage—and one YouTube page pushing out his videos. He also runs several websites.
VICE contacted Facebook and YouTube about Johnston’s use of their platforms. According to YouTube, the company has reviewed the account and removed it. Facebook told VICE it is actively investigating Johnston's three pages, but because of the length and number of the videos posted to the pages, the process will take some time.
"Hate speech and content that promotes violence have no place on YouTube and we take action against channels that violate our guidelines," a YouTube spokesperson told VICE. "This account was previously terminated for violating our guidelines, and we do not allow terminated accounts to return to YouTube. We removed this new account after it was flagged and reviewed."
Johnston has been using online platforms to push hate for years and is notorious in Ontario. In 2018, Johnston ran for mayor of Mississauga, finishing second and receiving 13.5 percent of the vote. In 2017, Johnston drew nationwide ire after offering a $1,000 bounty to anyone who could provide him with video of Muslims students praying at a high school he was rallying against. His stunts landed him a hate crime charge that is still before the courts; if he’s found guilty, he faces up to two years in prison. And like many in the Canadian anti-Muslim sphere, Johnston is associated with Rebel Media. He briefly co-hosted a podcast with David Menzies, one of the Rebel’s reporters. For a time he ran a “new outlet” called the Mississauga Gazette in which he would rail against Muslims and local politicians.
Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network told VICE that Johnston, like many who espouse anti-Muslim views, propagates the false idea that Sharia, or Islamic law, is coming to Canada.
“Kevin J. Johnston is a vlogger who's part of Canada's anti-Muslim movement that pushes misinformation and promotes hate towards Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ+ community, often harassing individuals and encouraging his viewers to do the same,” Balgord told VICE. “He has a small but loyal following among anti-Muslim hate groups and their supporters, with some of his videos getting thousands of views.”
Johnston also has a small following on platforms tied to the far-right, such as Gab, Bitchute, and Minds. But the majority of his views come from Facebook and YouTube. On both major platforms, Johnston has received bans but persists by creating new channels. So far the only site that seems to have been able to de-platform Johnston for good is Twitter. This is something Ferguson realized, writing in the decision that “it is impossible to know with certainty how many online platforms the Johnston defendants own and operate as at any point they can establish more.”
Ferguson’s decision lists, at length, many hateful terms Johnston has used to describe Muslims, including "terrorists", "terrorist scumbags", "racist terrorist scumbags", Nazi", “rapists”, and he has said Muslims are a part of a "system designed to rape, kill and pillage and destroy" Canada. The decision also states that he’s urged his followers to stock up on guns and weapons, and lays out how he pulls in money from his rants.
“Mr. Johnston profits from the promotion of hatred,” reads the decision. “He takes paid speaking engagements featuring anti-Muslim statements, and Freedom Report solicits ‘donations’. The Johnston defendants have also offered for sale a variety of anti-Muslim paraphernalia including: a comic book written and published by Mr. Johnston titled ‘Muslimland’…”
While much of Johnston’s ramblings end with pleas to his audience to support his endeavours, they seem to fall on deaf ears. On Patreon, Johnston only receives $19 per month from his five patrons, and his website is comprised solely of links to donate. In his latest video, entitled “$2.5 Million Lawsuit LOST With NO TRIAL - Canada is Dead,” Johnston decries the decision and asks his followers to donate. The decision orders Johnston to destroy any videos regarding Fakih and not create any more—something Johnston obviously is not complying with.
In a statement, Fakih said that he feels vindicated, saying that “this decision is an important step towards demonstrating that those who are spewing hate online are going to have to pay.” In her decision, Ferguson writes that this decision is about more than just finances. “Motivated by ignorance and a reckless regard for acceptable norms, the Johnston defendant's behaviour reflects a contempt for Canada's judicial process, an abuse of the very freedoms this country affords them and a loathsome example of hate speech at its worst, targeting people solely because of their religion,” Ferguson wrote.
“Left unchallenged, it poisons the integrity of our democracy.”
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