Mohamad Fakih and Walied Soliman made legal history. Now it’s harder for haters to have their way

Good for them and all of us:

Mohamad Fakih owns a restaurant chain and is a big Liberal backer.

Walied Soliman heads a law firm and chairs Conservative campaigns.

In their political tastes, the restaurateur and the lawyer couldn’t be more different.

But both are Muslims.

Which was enough for them to be targeted for hateful libels accusing them of being closet terrorists. Personally harangued and persecuted for no reason beyond their faith, they were publicly vilified and personally victimized.

Yet both refused to play victim. Today, each is victorious.

In two separate libel cases, they made legal history last month. By calling their persecutors to account — and forcing the legal system to act — they have made it harder for haters to get away with screaming bloody murder in public.

Soliman won a precedent-setting $500,000 defamation award against social media agitator Daniel Bordman, who had publicly accused him of harbouring crypto-Islamist terrorist links and hiding “secret” antisemitism. The case against Bordman was so compelling that the ruling came in a summary judgment (without going to full trial due to the damning evidence).

Separately, Fakih finally saw justice done when a failed Mississauga mayoral candidate, Kevin Johnston, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for contempt of court — after failing to abide by the terms of a $2.5 million libel judgment against him two years ago (and continuing to spew venom).

What unites Soliman and Fakih, apart from their shared faith and charitable works, is that both paid a personal price in public harassment for their high profiles. And for the sin of being successful in their work.

At the intersection of religion and Islamophobia, power and privilege, they found themselves at an inflection point. They could turn the other cheek, and let others fight the battle against bigotry, or they could push back against their persecutors.

“The first instinct is to ignore it,” Soliman told me. “It’s very easy for privileged people — who have the ability to fight — to say it isn’t worth it.”

But as chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada law firm, who has served as campaign chair for both the Ontario and federal Tories, Soliman knew he had no excuse to do nothing. The libels falsely claimed he had “connections to the Muslim Brotherhood” and wanted to impose Islamic “sharia law to … override Canadian law,” the judge noted.

“I hate being the victim, I hate that role,” Soliman said. “If we don’t fight those battles, then who is going to set the precedents?”

To silence his bilious antagonist, Soliman turned to a rival lawyer against whom he is often pitted in legal battles over mergers and acquisitions, but whose judgment he deeply respects: Jonathan Lisus not only agreed to take on the case, but insisted on doing it at no charge.

Let’s connect a few dots here — not conspiracies but connections: Lisus happens to be a Jewish lawyer who took on the case of Soliman, a Muslim lawyer, to shield him against the lies and libels of Bordman — a Jewish social media provocateur falsely accusing Soliman of antisemitism.

But there’s another link. Lisus also fought and won the libel action of Fakih, setting not one but two major precedents with cases that, combined, should give pause to all hate-mongers:

“If you are going to engage in defamatory hate speech, you can lose everything,” Soliman concludes.

Fakih came to Canada from war-torn Lebanon in 1996 (having covered that conflict at that very time as a foreign correspondent, I know where he’s coming from). He savoured the seeming paradise of his adopted country, and revelled in his spectacular success founding the Paramount Fine Foods chain.

But with paradise, and Paramount, came the bizarre torment from Johnston, the failed politician and provocateur (who placed second to Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, winning 13.5 per cent of the vote in 2017). Post-Lebanon, Fakih didn’t see it coming.

“I lived the Canadian dream, I always thought it would never happen in Canada,” he told me. “It was a shock, and it helped me grow up.”

Like many immigrants, Fakih wondered if he would somehow seem like an ungrateful troublemaker for pushing. But when he was called a child killer, with doctored pictures showing “blood on my face,” after hosting a Liberal party fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, he had to protect his family — and his fellow Canadians — from the injustices and indignities.

“I wanted to show them I would not stay silent, that I would stand up to bullying … and live with dignity in front of my children,” Fakih explains. “Coming from a country like Lebanon, I am not a victim, it’s my duty to take them on.”

He won the multimillion-dollar defamation judgment against Johnston in 2019, but it was a hollow victory. Unsurprisingly, Johnston never paid up, but he shockingly refused to shut up — continuing to defame him publicly.

“I thought there would be accountability,” Fakih said. And so he went back to court a second time, this time to hold the justice system itself to account — and won another victory with the jail sentence, four years after he first came under attack.

Fakih’s story does not yet have a happy ending, for it is seemingly never-ending — the bigotry keeps coming back. Just as he had to deal with a defendant who refused to stop libeling him, so too Soliman has had to contend with one Islamophobic attack after another — most recently in last year’s federal Conservative leadership race (best leave his attacker nameless lest he profit from the attention).

Still, the legal precedents that Fakih and Soliman have established, each in their own way, will make it easier for those who follow to win in court. The personal examples they have set will also make it harder for haters to have their way.

But it is the resilience they have shown — by refusing to be victims after being victimized for so long — that may be their lasting legacy. Singled out for being Muslims, they both stood their ground without losing faith — either in their religion, or their country.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/11/01/mohamad-fakih-and-walied-soliman-made-legal-history-now-its-harder-for-haters-to-have-their-way.html

Fakih: A court has finally said ‘enough’ to my harasser – and that’s a win for Canada

Good result and good reflections:

I am an immigrant – a proud Canadian and a proud Muslim. I have built a restaurant business and raised a family in this country. If there is such a thing as a “Canadian Dream,” I have lived it.

But I have also been exposed to the hate that is growing in the dark corners of our society. And so, when an Ontario judge sentenced a man named Kevin Johnston to 18 months in prison for contempt of court this week, the decision was, to me, critical in ensuring that Canada remains a diverse, inclusive and welcoming country.

In 2017, Mr. Johnston made a series of vile and false accusations against me. He used hateful language at rallies and online. He followed and harassed me and my children in public. He refused to back down. To protect my family, my reputation and my livelihood, I took him to court for defamation. Ultimately, in 2019, I won a financial judgment against him.

In that case, Ontario Superior Court Justice Jane Ferguson described Mr. Johnston’s behaviour as “a loathsome example of hate speech at its worst, targeting people solely because of their religion. Left unchallenged, it poisons the integrity of our democracy.”

Unsurprisingly, however, Mr. Johnston refused to pay a penny of what she said he owed. But even worse, he continued to use the same hateful language against me.

I felt powerless and unsafe. I was afraid for my family and my employees. I was also frustrated about why this was allowed to happen.

I had won my court case; the law was on my side. So why had nothing changed? In an online video, Mr. Johnston was heard to boast: “Eleven times I’ve been arrested just for talking, and I’m still smiling. And all they’ve done is make me more popular than ever before.”

Was this really justice?

Part of me wished that I could ignore the man and be done with him, but I thought about Mr. Johnston and what he represented every day. I couldn’t stop asking myself: Is this the kind of Canada we want to live in? A Canada where hatemongers show no fear of being held responsible for their dangerous words?

I decided to once more put my faith in our justice system. And this week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Frederick Myers sentenced Mr. Johnston to prison on six counts of contempt. As he wrote in his decision: “There is a need in this case for a sentence that makes the public sit up and take notice.”

Justice Myers’s wider point was what’s truly important. “The thin veneer of civility represented by the rule of law requires protection,” he wrote. “Our society only continues if people voluntarily respect the law. Canada is not a society with soldiers on street corners policing the population with machine guns at every turn. It is our shared values, including our commitment to the rule of law, that differentiates our democracy from so many other cultures.”

Free speech is the foundation of strong democratic society. Hate speech is a perversion and violation of that right. It is, for good reason, against the law. It is a threat to the safety of many in our country, and a threat to the values and ideals that our country strives to represent.

To combat hate in Canada, we need action and accountability. Law enforcement must act against those who promote hate; the courts must hold these people accountable and make them pay a price. That’s the path to Canadians having the confidence that the law can protect them, and to meaningful deterrence. The thin veneer must be protected. Those who willfully violate the law – and ignore its sanctions – must be punished.

“Perhaps jail is a blunt tool and risks making Mr. Johnston a martyr to his cause,” Justice Myers acknowledged. “But at some point, society simply needs to protect its members and itself from those who would use our democratic freedoms to deliberately hurt others and strike at the democratic and Charter values and the democratic institutions that are Canada.”

The sentence against Mr. Johnston isn’t a solution to the broader problem. There are too many others who echo and amplify his hateful words. But it’s a start. After four long years, I can tell you that this Canadian was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief that a measure of justice had at last been served. It should not have required this years-long ordeal, but I am grateful to be able to live in a country where, finally, its institutions have said: Enough.

Mohamad Fakih is the founder and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-a-court-has-finally-said-enough-to-my-harasser-and-thats-a-win-for/

Fakih and Khan: Canada’s Muslims should expand charitable efforts beyond their own communities

Good message by two Canadian Muslim businessmen, Mohamad Fakih and Kashif Khan, one that applies to many communities, in terms of the balance between supporting their own as well as the broader community:

Many first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants have shared our success. They’re lawyers and doctors, entrepreneurs and business executives. But a gap has existed between the causes supported by Muslim-Canadian immigrants and those supported by the broader Canadian public. Now, we’re challenging our fellow Muslim business leaders and professionals to widen the scope of the charities our community supports and help narrow that gap.

This is why we’ve partnered with TPL. In its six years of existence, TPL has been an enormous source of support for Canadian soldiers, veterans and their families. Specifically, the Salaam-TPL fund will support the needs of military children, including children with special needs, tutoring for military children struggling at school, and such community programs as youth drop-in centres and camps.

Since we launched our fund-raising drive, we’ve heard from many successful members of the Muslim community — and they share our sentiments. The Salaam-TPL fund is acting as a catalyst to encourage our fellow Muslims to support broader Canadian causes.

The fund also provides the Muslim community with the opportunity to demonstrate their pride of, and support for, Canada’s military families and veterans. Such donations, from successful Muslim-Canadian business leaders to Canadian charities like this, signal to our fellow citizens that we are enthusiastic and vociferous supporters of the democratic and diverse ideals that Canada represents, and those who defend them at home and abroad. Fellow Muslims, please hear our challenge and give what you can.

Fakih and Khan: Canada’s Muslims should expand charitable efforts beyond their own communities