January 4, 2021
Former Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston has been arrested after failing to show up to a Toronto courthouse to begin serving a jail sentence, Calgary police said Tuesday.
In a statement to CBC News, the police service said Johnston was arrested by the U.S. border patrol agency early Tuesday while attempting to cross the Saskatchewan-Montana border on foot.
“He is being held in the town Plentywood, Montana, while we work to have him returned to Canada,” the statement from Calgary Police Service (CPS) spokesperson Brittany Klassen said.
Johnston had been wanted in Ontario and Alberta after failing to show up for jail sentences in both provinces.
Most recently, he had been scheduled to be at the courthouse at 361 University Ave in Toronto at 10 a.m. Tuesday to begin serving an 18-month sentence for violating a court order to stop defaming restaurateur Mohamad Fakih — recently named to the Order of Canada — after repeatedly calling him a “terrorist” and “baby killer.”
Fakih is a Lebanese-Canadian businessperson and philanthropist who owns the Paramount Fine Foods restaurant chain and garnered headlines for his charitable acts such as distributing thousands of free meals to frontline workers during the pandemic.
‘Continues to hold himself above the rule of law’
In sentencing Johnston, Ontario Superior Court Justice Fred Myers said “if Johnston does not surrender himself at the time and place stipulated, a warrant for his arrest will issue.”
A lawyer for Fakih told CBC News earlier on Tuesday that Johnston had failed to appear in court and that a warrant was now in effect for his arrest.
“It is clear that Mr. Johnston continues to hold himself above the rule of law even after being found in contempt and sentenced to a significant term of imprisonment for defying court orders,” lawyer Niklas Holmberg said before the arrest.
Holmberg confirmed the Ontario warrant was issued at the same time as Johnston’s sentence so that police could have the power to arrest and force compliance in the event Johnston didn’t show up.
‘Classic hate speech’
In his sentencing order, Myers said “Mr. Johnston’s words are classic hate speech. They draw on tropes to assign negative characteristics based on ugly stereotypes, like branding Muslims as terrorists, for example.”
In 2019, an Ontario judge ruled in favour of Fakih, awarding him $2.5 million in a lawsuit against Johnston for a series of defamatory videos and online posts made against him. The judge at the time said Johnston’s remarks were a “loathsome example of hate speech at its worst.”
CBC has reached out to Johnston as well as Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General for comment.
Johnston failed to complete Alberta jail term
Johnston was to begin his sentence after completing a separate 40-day intermittent sentence in Calgary, which he had been serving on weekends.
That sentence was imposed after Johnston was convicted in July of two counts of contempt after spending months inciting his followers to defy Alberta’s public health measures.
But last month, Johnston failed to show up for his final weekend in jail.
“The Calgary Police Service have made attempts to locate Johnston, however, he is currently being sought for failing to show up at the Calgary Remand Centre as part of his intermittent sentence,” said a police spokesperson in a written statement.
A year ago, Johnston moved from Toronto to Calgary, where he ran as a fringe mayoral candidate and became a leader in the anti-mask, pandemic-denial movement.
Johnston is also facing an assault trial in B.C.
In May and June, Johnston spent the equivalent of seven weeks in jail for harassing and threatening an Alberta Health Services inspector as well as causing a disturbance at a downtown Calgary shopping mall when he berated shop staff who demanded he wear a mask.