Outside the Toronto Zionist Centre on Sunday, July 30, members of the far-right Jewish Defence League (JDL) wore helmets and kevlar vests; some guarded the premises with bats and batons. They were on high alert after someone on the page of their Facebook event had warned that members of Antifa (an “anti-fascist” left-wing movement) were planning to crash the meeting.
The JDL’s guest of honour that night: alt-right provocateur and anti-Islam vlogger Kevin J. Johnston, who days before had been arrested and charged under section 319(2) of the Criminal Code for “wilful promotion of hatred.”
JDL Canada’s national director Meir Weinstein introduced Johnston to the audience of about 50 people that included Rebel commentator David Menzies (who hosts a YouTube show with Johnston), a member of Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys, and an organizer with the anti-Islam group Rise Canada.
“It was my evidence that led to charges being laid against Ernst Zundel,” said Weinstein about the infamous Holocaust denier, who would die later in the week. “He was the world’s largest purveyor and distributor of Nazi propaganda… I was fairly involved in the prosecution… But what’s going on with Kevin Johnston is outrageous.”
Weinstein asked supporters to come out and fill the room for Johnston’s court appearances.
“Hopefully the judge will not be biased, hopefully. But we have to be there, all of us, in good moral conscience, to show our support for Kevin’s right to stand against real hate — real hate, not this made-up, fictitious nonsense they’re throwing at him,” he concluded.
After the warm introduction, Johnston took the stage — but before discussing his run-in the with the hate-speech law, he had other news to announce.
“I just wanted to let you all know that in the parking lot, a gentleman came over pretending to be a fan of mine and handed over this lawsuit.”
Johnston, 45 and married with two kids, is the founder of one-man far-right media outfit Freedom Report, where he posts video rants, many of which are about what he sees as the Islamification of Mississauga (his hometown) and Canada at large. Johnston first made national headlines back at the end of March, when he offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could provide him with recordings of Muslims in a Peel Region public school “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.” He is also a fan of notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and mimics his incendiary and hyperbolic rhetoric and mannerisms. Before getting into politics and political commentary, Johnston worked in the comedy/entertainment business.
The lawsuit was just the latest in a growing list of troubles for a man who, three days before, had told Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant that “every Muslim” would be hated by “every Canadian” if he ends up in jail for the hate-speech charge — and that that would lead to Muslims being “assaulted, beat up, perhaps even killed country-wide.”
It was an eventful week.
“You should know that I’m under attack from every angle,” Johnston told the crowd at the JDL meeting, “and this particular lawsuit is from Kevin Metcalf, who” — he claimed — “is the unofficial photographer of the domestic terrorist organization Antifa.”
Metcalf, who works as the promotions and communications coordinator at Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), had just had Johnston served with a small-claims suit seeking $25,000 for defamation.
Here is a representative excerpt from the statement of claim, provided to CANADALAND by Metcalf’s lawyer, Stephen Ellis:
On June 27, 2017, you published an 18-minute video devoted exclusively to Mr. Metcalf entitled “Kevin Metcalf of Antifa Behaves like a Left Wing Nazi SJW Lost Child.”
For the entirety of the video, you prominently featured Mr. Metcalf’s face below a Nazi symbol and a statement which read “Antifa loves Hitler.”
During the video, you stated categorically that he is a “communist,” “a Nazi,” “an evil person,” who had “no respect.” You also stated that he is “anti-white,” “anti-Canadian,” and “supports terrorism.” Next, you stated twice that he is “a loser,” and that “the whole world knows it.”
(The full document is at the bottom.)
Metcalf had been in Ottawa to cover the poorly attended “Million Canadian March” in early June on the same day that Johnston was allegedly assaulted by Antifa in a nearby park — although, as CANADALAND previously reported, the circumstances of how the altercation began are still in question. Four people were charged, and three face trial in the fall. However, Johnston believes Metcalf was at the scene documenting the assault and that he has withheld evidence.
Metcalf maintains he was on Parliament Hill at the time, covering the march, as well as doing an interview with the CBC.
“He knows we were in Ottawa,” Metcalf says in a phone interview with CANADALAND. “He knows he saw us, or someone saw us, with a group of individuals [earlier] who were involved [in the altercation], and so everything else that has been stated about the incident has fallen into the realm of a weird political fantasy in which he is the protagonist.”
The statement of claim cites several of Johnston’s videos in which he refers to Metcalf as a “domestic terrorist,” “fascist,” and “criminal.” The lawsuit also says Johnston falsely “stated that Mr. Metcalf is ‘extremely dangerous’ and was ‘armed’ when he and his friends ‘attacked you’ in Ottawa.” In addition to monetary damages, the suit seeks the removal of relevant videos and a retraction.
At the Zionist Centre, Johnston told the crowd his own version of events, claiming that in Ottawa, Metcalf “followed me for about 28, 30 city blocks, from my really sleazy motel down to a restaurant to meet the staff of rebel.media. [Rebel host] Faith Goldy was there with another cameraman. Kevin Metcalf walks in and says, ‘Hi, racist,’ puts his camera up, films us, and runs out the door. That’s kind of strange behaviour.”
To laughter from the crowd, Johnston noted that the suit cited his calling Metcalf a “loser.”
“Simple fact-checking, I think, could’ve saved this entire hassle,” Metcalf says.
“Yeah, sure. I lost my debit card this morning. I think I lost my wallet last week. I lost a pair of eyeglasses three months ago. If he wants to call me a loser, that could be factually accurate, but that’s not why he’s being sued,” he says. “The lawsuit is about the words ‘domestic terrorist,’ the false statement of facts that I had participated and held material evidence or was party to a crime in which criminal charges were laid… the calls to attack and his supporters to call the police if they see me, reading out my work address… it’s a grab bag.”
Johnston told the crowd that he would not settle the suit but instead would “demand” a trial, “so that I can ask every single question that I wish to ask. And most of it is going to be, ‘Please name every single member of Antifa that you know.’”
Asked about the Ottawa altercation, Johnston asserted to CANADALAND that he was attacked by “46 members of Antifa,” “at least 25” of whom “were kicking at” him, and that he “got hit with three flag poles that I can remember, at least.”
“And I had to turtle, get down and protect my head, protect my genitals, but they just kept on me.”
CANADALAND asked Johnston for pictures he said he had received from a photographer also covering Antifa, which he claims corroborate his story about Metcalf being a witness to the assault, but he didn’t answer our follow-up queries — except to say he encouraged us to get a copy of the suit and “spread it around.” (Johnston’s cameraman’s camera, which apparently had recordings leading up to the attack in the park, was stolen during the fight.)
Johnston told the crowd at the JDL meeting that on the preceding Friday, he’d been served with yet another “document.”
“I’ve received two death threats from two very interesting individuals. They were Arab, you could tell. The beards were long hair at the bottom, nothing here,” he said, pointing above his upper lip. “Both were on bikes, both told me I was a dead man, both sped off the street. Fifteen minutes later, a processor worker shows up, telling me I’m in big trouble, hands me over a letter… and the processor takes off, but I couldn’t get a picture of his licence plate because it was covered in cardboard.”
He explained that it was a cease-and-desist notice but didn’t elaborate on the nature of the demand.
On top of being charged with hate speech, given an apparent cease-and-desist letter, and served a lawsuit by Metcalf all in a week’s time, Johnston is also — according to his website — facing a $1 million countersuit filed “by child molesters” earlier this year. Johnston’s Twitter account, @KevinTheJackal (which he said had “about 16,000 followers”), was recently banned, his Facebook account was suspended for the sixth time, and earlier in the month his YouTube account was disabled. (It’s back up for now, but he believes he’ll soon be permanently banned from that platform, too.) Johnston blames the suspensions and bans on the supposed left-wing bias of social-media sites. He also claims to be receiving death threats on a regular basis.
“[My] family is the only thing I’m worried about; I’m never worried about me,” he said.
Metcalf tells CANADALAND he hopes that his lawsuit will be a lesson to other right-wing organizations that he believes play fast and loose with the truth.
“There’s a general collection of right-wing groups that are emboldened by success… They don’t think twice about what they’re saying, what the consequences of what they are saying are, because there have not been any consequences,” says Metcalf. “And so winning court judgments against them for defamation, it demonstrates that these things are unacceptable. You can’t do this.”
Ellis, Metcalf’s lawyer, took on the suit on a contingency basis.
“I took this case on because we have to be creative when tackling the problem of the rise of the racist right,” says Ellis in an email. “Johnston, and others like Sandra Solomon, the Soldiers of Odin, the Proud Boys, Pegida, the Jewish Defence League, and the myriad other racist outfits naturally have to be confronted directly — on the streets. Another tool we have can be the legal one.
“We have to throw ourselves wholeheartedly against this phenomenon. It threatens our collective safety and well-being.”
Two weeks ago, upon being released from police custody after questioning, Johnston took to his camera to record a video titled “Kevin J Johnston Arrested Under Motion M103,” in which he asked for donations to help pay for an estimated $25,000 to $35,000 in legal fees and claimed he was being charged under House of Commons motion M-103.
“Yes, all the left-wing media could not wait to tell you all that I was arrested today under the future proviso of M-103. That is correct. The anti-blasphemy law, the anti-Islamophobia law is coming to Canada next year. I am the first Canadian to suffer arrest under its tenure.”
The statement was incorrect. M-103 is not a law, but a motion that condemned Islamophobia and called for the Canadian government to review ways to fight hatred towards Islam and Muslims through a parliamentary committee. Johnston was in fact charged by Peel Regional Police under a longstanding and unrelated provision of the Criminal Code concerning hate speech, following a “lengthy investigation” into videos he posted on social media.
CANADALAND asked Johnston to clarify his false statement.
“I said it was a precursor to what’s coming. It’s not actually M-103 but an M-103-esque law that’s in place. The point I’m going to make with that is when M-103 becomes a law under Justin [Trudeau next year], which we know he’ll push for… there will be at least 10,000 arrests every month — I’m sure — countrywide because they’re going to go to town on this. The only way to defeat it, at that point when it’s law, is to point out that the courthouses and jails are full of people who just have opinions.”
Some right-wing pundits have come to the defence of Johnston over his hate-speech charge, which, if prosecuted as an indictable offence, carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.
Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant interviewed Johnston on his paywalled show, and afterwards said some of Johnston’s comments were an example of “solipsism.” However, Levant still defended Johnston’s right to free speech but is reserving judgment about the case until the details are disclosed. (While there has been speculation that the charge may have stemmed from Johnston’s bounty for a video of Muslim students in Peel schools, police have yet to elaborate on their basis for laying it.)
National Post columnist Christie Blatchford also came to Johnston’s defence, writing that he was “just the latest poor sap to come to government attention,” and raised the concern that there is an “overt sheen of politicization to a prosecution which is inherently politicized by the unusual requirement that the [Attorney General] must first consent.”
As a political candidate, Johnston had finished a distant 11th in the 2014 Mississauga mayoral race ultimately won by city councillor and former Liberal MP Bonnie Crombie. In her Post column, Blatchford pointed out that Crombie filed a hate-crime complaint against Johnston last year — which Blatchford believes could’ve been the “catalyst” for his arrest — after he published a “bizarre” article titled “Bonnie’s Muslims Are Molesting Teenage Girls in Mississauga Highschools.”
Furthering their impression that the charge was political, some of Johnston’s supporters have pointed to the fact that Ontario attorney general Yasir Naqvi is both Muslim and a Liberal.
Johnston himself told the JDL crowd that he thinks the charge was brought to hinder his second run for the Mississauga mayoralty, which he wholeheartedly believes he will win next year.
“The Liberal Party is in panic mode right now,” he said, adding that “when I win the mayorship of the city, I’m kowtowing to nobody.”
“I know for a fact that the Liberal Party does not want me to be mayor of Mississauga next year because they know how far I’ll take the changes in my hometown.”
The Ontario Civil Liberties Association — unaffiliated with the better-known Canadian Civil Liberties Association — has also backed Johnston, starting a petition to get Naqvi to reverse his decision to allow the “systemically political” proceedings to go ahead.
OCLA researcher Denis Rancourt told The Mississauga News, “Democratic societies should not have … criminal code provisions where the state is not ever having to prove actual harm, physical or psychological, to any actual person that they bring forth as a person that was harmed.”
CJFE, however, supports the government’s decision to allow hate-crime proceedings to commence against Johnston.
“You have a full right to free expression in this country, up until the point where you are inciting hatred against someone,” says CJFE executive director Tom Henheffer, who notes that Canadian law has “strict criteria” for what constitutes incitement.
Henheffer also addressed the “apparent irony” of a CJFE staff member suing someone for libel, although CJFE is not involved with Metcalf’s lawsuit.
“You have a right to free expression in this country, but that has limits, and one of those limits is that you can’t libel people, you can’t defame people, you can’t intentionally, maliciously, and publicly harm someone’s reputation, which is exactly what [Johnston] did.”
Levant, in his defence of Johnston, mocked a Global News report that quoted a Muslim activist claiming Johnston was inciting violence in his videos.
Yet some of Johnston’s videos appear to show him doing just that.
In a video denouncing Liberal MP Iqra Khalid for putting forth M-103, Johnston appears to say he would be glad to see her shot:
It sickens me that she holds a seat in Parliament Hill as a terrorist scumbag … I believe that you are a terrorist. I believe that you are here to kill me, and kill my children, and kill the entire future of this entire nation… The only thing that your actions can do is cause a civil war within these borders… Because I can tell you this, there are a lot of gun nuts in this country, and you’re pissing them off. You don’t want to do that. There is a select kind of Canadian that even I’m afraid of. And those are not the guys you want to try and bring Sharia law to. But hey, if you think that is the right way to go, go ahead. I’m a journalist, and I’ll be there to see you on the ground crying and complaining about the fact that someone shot you because they disagreed with Sharia law and the rape of children. And I’ll be there with a big fat smile on my face, saying, “Heh, heh, Iqra Khalid gets shot by a Canadian patriot who didn’t want to wrap his daughter up in a bandage, and who did not want to take on or adopt Sharia, where he has to pin his daughter down on the ground and cut her labia and clitoris off with a razor blade.”
Johnston craves media attention to get his message across, embracing stunt-right tactics, something The Rebel does regularly to attract mainstream media’s attention. In his speech to the crowd, he explained how the mainstream media helps him and other alt-right media spread their messages.
“This tells me that everybody who is of a liberal mindset, everybody who is a left-wing nutjob, is afraid of not me, but of what I — and all of you — represent,” he said. “We represent the truth, and we represent Canada.”
“The more they try and silence us, the more attention they give us. Because, we can always count on the Toronto Star, CBC, and CTV to be unwitting accomplices in getting our message out there.”
Following his talk, CANADALAND asked Johnston about his statement on The Ezra Levant Show that Muslims would be attacked and killed if he gets sent to prison.
While emphasizing that he doesn’t want “the average Muslim individual” attacked, he said he feels it would be inevitable.
“I don’t want them assaulted, I don’t want them stabbed, I don’t want them to be run over by cars because people are angry about what the government is doing, but we know it is going to happen,” he said. “We know that. I’m saying this clear: I. Don’t. Want. That. I don’t want civil war in my country because of what our government is doing. I don’t want division in our society.”
So what does he want?
“I want the whole country working together as a unified nation. The best example that I can give you — you weren’t there for this, unfortunately — but when the Blue Jays won the World Series, to be [in] downtown Toronto and high-fiving and hugging everybody, didn’t matter what colour or race they were, it didn’t make a difference. Nobody cared if the guy beside you had a turban on, it was high fives, it was hugs, ‘Blue Jays!’ Everybody had the Canadian flag regardless of their background. That’s the country I want.”
Johnston is set to make his next court appearance for the hate-speech charge on September 8.
The statement of claim in Kevin Metcalf’s defamation suit against Kevin J. Johnston in Small Claims Court:
Correction (8/12/17, 4:20 p.m.): This piece originally omitted the “t” from the surname of Ontario Civil Liberties Association researcher Denis Rancourt.