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FOR TORTS - Defamation - Method of publication - Internet

Friday, June 21, 2019 @ 6:10 AM  


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Motion by the plaintiffs Paramount Fine Foods and Fakih for summary judgment against the defendants Johnston and FreedomReport.ca (the Johnston defendants) in respect of allegedly defamatory publications. Fakih was a Canadian-Muslim businessman and the Chief Executive Officer of Paramount. Under Fakih’s leadership, the Paramount restaurant chain had expanded to approximately 40 locations across Canada and 14 other locations worldwide. Fakih was well known for his charitable works and he was deeply committed to community service without regard to race, religion, or ethnicity. Johnston was a self-styled journalist and the owner of FreedomReport.ca. He also owned and operated numerous social media accounts and websites. He used the online platforms to broadcast hate. On July 20, 2017, Paramount hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a Liberal party of Canada fundraiser. Johnston attended outside the restaurant on the day of the event, with a camera and a megaphone. He made multiple attempts to disrupt the event and made several false and malicious statements about Fakih and Paramount to people outside the restaurant. The Johnston defendants published a series of videos from the day of the event with accompanying text and title pages posted widely on many websites. In the videos, Johnston made a few false and malicious statements about Paramount and Fakih. A libel notice was served on the Johnston defendants on July 27, 2017. The Johnston defendants refused to apologize and responded by immediately broadcasting more false and malicious content. Fakih commenced this lawsuit on August 4, 2017. The Johnston defendants responded to the lawsuit with even more false and malicious content about the plaintiffs on the Johnston online platforms.

HELD: Motion allowed. The impugned statements were defamatory and there were no defences available to the Johnston defendants. The impugned statements were the most harmful type of statement. Accusing any person, and in particular a Muslim individual, of terrorism was about as serious and damaging an allegation as could be made in these times. Allegations of criminal conduct were also obviously and materially harmful to reputational interests. Each of the defamatory statements was published on several different websites and social media platforms. The Johnston defendants’ hateful remarks had a demonstrable effect on the plaintiffs’ business. Hate speech was a special category of expression deserving of sanction. Throughout the course of the action, the Johnston defendants repeatedly disrespected the court process. There was a strong likelihood that the Johnston defendants would continue to publish defamatory communications about the plaintiffs after judgment. The plaintiffs were awarded general, aggravated, punitive, and special damages in the amount of $2.5 million. The plaintiffs were also granted permanent injunctions.

Paramount Fine Foods v. Johnston, [2019] O.J. No. 2491, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, J.E. Ferguson J., May 13, 2019. Digest No. TLD-June172019011