On the top floor of his downtown Toronto restaurant, Mohamad Fakih recalls a painful year and a half.
“No one should really go through what I went through,” Fakih said.
“I left the war in Beirut and I came here because I thought this was the best country I can come and build a family,” he said. “The only time I felt that I am alone again, and right here in Toronto, we are not in Beirut, there is no war.”
The Muslim-Canadian fled the civil war in Lebanon and since coming to Canada has opened a successful chain of middle eastern restaurants. He said he never imagined becoming the target of hate.
“It’s so sad that after years of being in business and being successful and hiring Canadians from all background just because of their skills you still get attacked and feel like you just arrived yesterday,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Fakih’s legal battle began in July 2017, when two well known anti-Muslim activists showed up outside a Mississauga location of his Paramount Fine Foods chain during a Liberal party fundraiser and made comments on video claiming Fakih has links to extremism.
“They were putting videos all across Mississauga, Toronto. People were talking about it, and I simply didn’t do anything wrong,” Fakih said.
WATCH: Anti-Muslim activist apologizes to GTA restauranteur over hateful comments. Caryn Lieberman reports.
Both Ron Banerjee and Kevin Johnston are often found at anti-Muslim rallies across the GTA.
The latter ran for Mayor of Mississauga. He has also been charged criminally with promoting hatred toward the Peel Muslim community.
“For someone to stand in front of my restaurant and say you need a credential to be allowed in the restaurant, you need to have to rape your wife or somebody’s else’s wife many times, and then to be called Jihadist, I mean these people don’t really know me” he said.
Fakih sued them both in August 2017, investing time and money because, he said, “I want to defend that image of Canada that I left my country for, and I really want my children to be proud Canadian-Muslim.”
The lawsuit against Johnston is ongoing.
The case against Banerjee ended with a settlement Monday, which included an “unqualified apology,” a confidential cash payment and a “consent to judgment” of $100,000 if he publishes any similar comments about Fakih and/or Paramount Fine Foods..
In the video, Banerjee is seated at a table and reading from a paper.
“I said that in order to be permitted entry into the Paramount Fine Foods restaurant you gotta be a Jihadist. I also said you need credentials, you have to have raped your wife a few times to be allowed in there,” Banerjee said.
Later he added, “I have learned that it was wrong to attack Mr. Fakih because of his religion or where he is from. Such hate has no place in Canada and I will not make public statements of this nature in the future.”
In his June decision, Justice Shaun Nakatsuru, who ruled the lawsuit against Banerjee should proceed despite his efforts to quash it, noted, “Mr. Banerjee’s comments go beyond offensive or hurtful expression. They involve hallmarks of hate.”
“Never before has the law of libel been used when people are being attacked for their faith or for the colour of the skin,” said Bernie Farber, founder of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which received a $25,000 donation from Fakih after the settlement.
“Here we are, a Jew and a Muslim working together to fight hate, that’s really a great message,” said Farber. “He’s a hero really for doing this, he really is because it’s not just for him, he’s done it for the Jewish community, he’s done it for the Hindu community, he’s done it for the Buddhist community.”
Just last month, Statistics Canada reported a record number of hate crimes across the country in 2017, up 47 per cent over the previous year. Most incidents targeted Muslim, Black and Jewish communities.
Farber said Fakih’s efforts to sue Banerjee and Johnston will help all of those communities.
“Now we have another weapon in the arsenal against hate,” Farber said.
As for Fakih, he hopes the settlement and the fight shows others “hate has no place in Canada.”
“My solution may be simplistic, I’m a restauranteur, maybe they should come and dine with the Muslim and the Jew and the Black because when we dine together we get to know each other better.”