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Paramount Fine Foods owner awarded $2.5M in hate speech lawsuit

Last Updated May 13, 2019 at 4:56 pm EDT

The owner of Paramount Fine Foods, Mohammad Fakih, has been awarded $2.5 million by an Ontario judge after suing Kevin Johnston and FreedomReport.ca for defamation.

Fakih sued Johnston and the Freedom Report back in July 2017 for several incidents including a series of videos which spewed “hateful Islamophobic remarks.”

In the decision made by the Ontario Superior Court, a judge ruled the statements made by Johnston met all three elements of defamation.

Justice Ferguson said Fakih and his restaurant were “the clear targets” of the defendant’s hateful expressions and “the remarks are facially defamatory and would tend to lower Paramount Fine Foods and Mr. Fakih’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person.”

The judge also ruled the defendants statements “shared all the essential hallmarks and attributes of an expression that is not worthy of protection.” The decision also states the hateful Islamophobic remarks have no basis in fact.

Johnston has been ordered to remove or destroy any copy or reference to the videos and content identified in the lawsuit and they are permanently restrained from coming within 100 metres of Fakih, his residents and his family.

They are also banned from making any contact with, recording or attempting to record Fakih and his family and posting any defamatory statements concerning Fakih or Paramount Fine Foods.

The lawsuit states between July 23 and Aug. 1, a series of eight videos were posted by Johnston on the Freedom Report that made a number of malicious and false statements against Fakih and Paramount Fine Foods.

Some of the statements include: “The restaurant is in the middle of an industrial area ‘for the sole purpose of allowing Islamic discussion whether it be terrorist talk or not,” “You have to be a ‘Jihadist or have raped someone else’s wife as a condition of entry to the Restaurant,” “Mr. Mohammad Fakih wants to be part of giving money to convicted terrorists.”

He also called for a boycott of Paramount “until they come clean on terror involvement.”

The lawsuit also said the videos included the restaurant’s facade and logo and a photo of Fakih altered to show blood on his hands and face.

When a libel notice was served to Johnston, he responded by broadcasting more malicious content, including calling Fakih a “radical Muslim” and a “radical Muslim terror funder.”

The suit also states before the videos were posted in April of 2017, Johnston approached Fakih when he was at the Erin Mills Town Centre with his three children, aged four to 13. Johnston began accusing Fakih of supporting terrorism and took pictures and videos of Fakih’s children. He also followed Fakih and his family to the parking lot. The incident was reported to police.

Since the videos were posted, Fakih says he is often approached at public events by strangers who comment about the statements made by Johnston. He also recalled in October 2017, his eldest son returned home from school and said he had been harassed by other students who had seen the videos online.

The lawsuit also claims Johnston’s videos have had an effect on Fakih’s business and Paramount’s employees.

A full list of incidents can be read in the lawsuit summary below:

Paramount Fine Foods and Mohamad Fakih awarded $2.5M by CityNewsToronto on Scribd

Johnston did not submit any materials in defense in the lawsuit.

Fakih immigrated to Canada from Lebanon where he opened and expanded Paramount Fine Foods, which now has over 50 locations world wide and employs over 2,000 people.

He is also well-know for his charitable works, most notably, covering the funeral costs for those killed in the Quebec City mosque shooting and raising over $100,000 for the victims’ families.

In the Superior Court decision, Justice Ferguson said he felt compelled to stress the wider societal issues this disturbing case represents.

“The horrific behaviour of the Johnston defendants has been a grievous injustice to a valued member of the Canadian community who deserves nothing less than out respect. Motivated by ignorance and reckless regard for acceptable norms, the Johnston defendants’ behavior 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.”

Fakih said he feels vindicated by the court’s decision.

“I did this not for me, but for my kids to know that people who bully and spew hatred are wrong and that Canada will defend us,” Fakih said in a statement. “This judgement has rejuvenated my sense of belonging here. To know that the courts will stand by me, at a time when I felt very targeted and lonely, gives me great confidence in our justice system and our democracy.”

Johnston was also charged with willful promotion of hatred against Muslims back in July of 2017.