A long-time Canadian far-right and anti-Islam provocateur has been sentenced to 18 months for numerous contempt of court charges.
Kevin Johnston received three months for each of the six contempt of court charges he was facing. The ruling is in response to the provocateur’s repeated flouting of the law and previous decisions against him.
The contempt charges arise from his continued defaming of Mohamad Fakih, a Muslim Toronto restaurateur. Johnston falsely claimed Fakih financed terrorists and only let Jihadis and rapists into his restaurants. In 2017, he lost a defamation suit to Fakih and was sentenced to pay $2.3 million—the largest defamation suit in Canada at the time. However, this record-setting ruling didn’t deter Johnston, who never paid a dime of the penalty and continued to defame Fakih on his website and internet show.
On Monday Justice Fred Meyer said the case was “unique” in its combination of hate speech and flagrant disregard for the rule of law and said it needed “a sentence that makes the public sit up and take notice.”
“Mr. Johnston dehumanizes Mr. Fakih and has no regard for the pain, anxiety, or psychological harm he inflicts,” said Meyers. “In considering the need to protect Fakih and the public, I accept that the only way to do so is to remove Johnston from the public for a time.”
Meyers also noted that Fakih was a man of some prominence, and “if the court is powerless to stop unrelenting, unlawful racist attacks against a man like Mr. Fakih, how are the powerless to feel welcome or safe in Canada?”
The judge said other contributing factors for the hefty sentence were Johnston’s “defiant unwillingness to comply; his refusal to acknowledge responsibility; his lack of any expression of remorse, repentance, or contrition; and his avid profit- and power-seeking motives.”
Johnston is, unsurprisingly, a player in Canada’s COVID-conspiracy community. He is currently serving time in Alberta for another contempt charge related to his repeated breaking of Alberta COVID-19 health regulations—he received a 40-day sentence, which he serves on weekends—and will begin to serve the 18 months in January 2022 once the Alberta sentence is up.
After 15 months, Johnston’s case will be reassessed. Kurt Phillips, a man who has long followed Johnston’s work and now sits on the board of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told VICE World News that delaying Johnston’s jailing until Jan. 4 is worrisome.
“He could cause a lot of harm in the meantime,” said Phillips. “I suspect this sentence will not chasten him at all and he will simply present himself as a martyr now.”
For years, Johnston has operated an online show in which he spews vile far-right messaging, which often targets the Muslim community. He supplemented his online presence with real-world activity such as offering $1,000 to his followers if they go and film Muslim high school students, and helping organize anti-lockdown tiki-torch marches. Despite his stunts and media coverage, Johnston’s popularity has remained slim, even among the far-right audience, but he was sometimes able to get hundreds of viewers on his livestreams.
Johnston’s constant drive for far-right infamy routinely brings him legal troubles. He’s faced numerous charges this year for a variety of stunts and actions that range from assaulting the owner of a grocery store after Johnston went maskless shopping, to urging his followers to harass Alberta health care workers. He spent 10 weeks in prison over the summer as he awaited one of his hearings. At the hearing a judge called Johnston “out of control.”
While Johnston is used to receiving small-time penalties for his antics, this is by far the biggest punishment he’s gotten. In his ruling, Meyers mentioned Johnston had organized his assets in a way that he doesn’t need to pay if he’s fined, and that he has told his followers if they continue to request a change in lawyers a court case cannot happen. (Johnston tried and failed to use this strategy in this case.)
“The issue is that Mr. Johnston appears to make a living as a political actor and a quasi-journalist,” Meyers wrote when he found him guilty. “Mr. Johnston uses language, his intellect, and street smarts to tap into and fan the ugliest currents in society. In doing so he paints himself as sitting above the rule of law.”
The sentence comes after a bizarre hearing in late September, in which Johnston cried over abuse he received online and seemingly feigned his audio dropping out (he at one point answered the person he supposedly couldn’t hear).
It seems unlikely that Johnston will stop doing stunts or asking for donations as he continues to serve his Alberta sentence. Johnston moved to Calgary in 2020 to run for mayor, a stunt that’s got him a good amount of press. In the midst of the campaign, he’s taken part in several anti-lockdown rallies across the country. During one stop for a small rally in northern British Columbia, Johnston, with his crew, stormed into a grocery store without a mask, stole a bar of soap, and then punched the manager of the store in the face. Johnston was charged with assault while employees of the grocery store were inundated with hate mail.
Right up until the weekend, Johnston was out doing his style of “campaigning,” in which he stands in front of signs he made for himself on a livestream, makes a bunch of widely untrue claims, and asks his followers to donate money to him.
During the sentencing, Johnston sat in front of a collection of green screens that he uses for his far-right livestreams. He stared blankly ahead at the screen when Myers delivered his ruling.
Elizabeth Simons, the deputy director for the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told VICE World News she doesn’t know if the sentence will work to change his ways but is happy he’s facing some sort of penalty.
“The bottom line is he spreads incredible vitriol and hate and attempts to use and abuse the court system to sow discord and division,” she said. “It’s finally caught up with him. We’re looking forward to 18 months without Johnston being in the picture.”
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.