A local Muslim man is suing the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and several associates after his name and image were used and branded as a “terrorist” online.
Oumer Kinnarath filed a statement of claim on Oct. 8, 2020, against the PPC, ABC Inc. and candidates Steven Fletcher and Yogi Henderson. He also names Monique Choiselat, who was the CEO of the PPC’s Winnipeg Centre Riding Association, and a John and Jane Doe.
Also named in the lawsuit are Todd McDougall and Derek Storie, both associated with Winnipeg Alternative Media, a volunteer-based website.
The incident began when Kinnarath, a local activist and founder of Fascist Free Treaty One (FFI1), learned of a PPC rally happening in July 2019 at local gallery Cre8ery, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit describes FF1 as “an anti-fascist group that puts community action and education at the forefront of anti-racist activism,” adding that their activism is peaceful.
Kinnarath told the gallery’s owner about his concerns with “racism and anti-LGBT stance of some of the PPC’s candidates and the anti-immigrant sentiment within the party,” says the statement of claim.
“He also provided her with examples of articles, which included articles regarding concerns that the PPC harbours racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists,” it continues, and Kinnarath asked the owner to consider cancelling the booking.
Read the Statement of Claim:
The gallery owner decided not to cancel, so Kinnarath posted about the rally publicly on his social media channels, says the lawsuit.
The statement of claim says after the PPC started to experience resistance, Choiselat, former CEO of the PPC’s Winnipeg Centre Riding Association, emailed Kinnarath and asked for a meeting. He refused. The pair emailed back and forth, and, according to the lawsuit, one of those emails included Kinnarath’s contact information including phone number and address.
On July 22, 2019, Choiselat sent him an email alleging that he was spreading misinformation and threatening people, according to the statement of claim.
“Why would you spread misinformation to the media so cruelly…!” the email reads according to the lawsuit.
“Why would you threaten people who you do not even know and have nothing to do with you, like this? How would you like it if someone targeted you for your beliefs because they disagree with what you believe?”
Later that day, the gallery owner decided to cancel the PPC’s booking.
“Some anti-hate-fa group is trying to shut down our rally in Winnipeg,” Choiselat then posted on her Facebook page, according to the lawsuit.
“Just got a call from the venu (sic) owner. Someone threatened to burn down her building. So she’s scared and cancelled.”
“Just to let you know Omar Kennarath … is the one who did this to her [sic],” she alleged publicly, according to the lawsuit.
While Kinnarath’s birth name is Oumer, he regularly goes as Omar.
According to the statement of claim, she then posted a photo of Kinnarath on social media channels with the word “TERRORIST” inscribed across the bottom, along with his full name, home address, phone number and email address.
The posts were eventually removed from both Facebook and Twitter.
Global News sent an email and a message on social media to Choiselat Wednesday morning asking for comment. She did not respond.
The lawsuit alleges that candidates Fletcher and Henderson agreed with Choiselat’s “terrorist” statement in an article published two days later in the Winnipeg Free Press.
Fletcher said his lawyers are looking over the statement of claim and said his comments quoted in the media were true and did not target anyone directly.
“My lawyers will be seeking to have my name removed from the lawsuit. They will file a defamation suit against this individual. I will seek costs and other damages.”
Global News sent private messages on social media to Henderson Wednesday. He did not respond.
“Canadian Muslims, they’ve been grappling with this issue, unjustified slurs, for far too long. The term “terrorist” is one that Muslims often have to deal with,” said Sameha Omer, co-council for Kinnarath and also director of legal affairs at the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
“We cannot stay silent when this epithet is used with such impunity because it can have significant consequences on the targeted individuals and the community at large.”
Another lawyer for Kinnarath, Imran Qureshi, says the case is also necessary because Canadian law doesn’t articulate a proper course of action for “doxing.”
Doxing is when one’s private or identifying information is published on the internet, typically with malicious intent.
“Doxing can have serious consequences,” Qureshi said.
“At present, in Canadian law there is no cause of action specifically dealing with doxing. In this case we are proposing a new tort. The tort of malicious publication of personal identifying information.”
“Frankly at the end of the day this case is about consequences … the consequence of unfairly calling a Muslim man a terrorist, and then doxing him.”
The statement of claim also alleges videos posted by McDougall and Storie contained “defamatory statements.”
The pair, according to the lawsuit, then went to Kinnarath’s place of work and filmed him while he was working. The statement of claim says Kinnarath asked them to leave and they were escorted away by security.
Several of the videos are still online and accessible.
Asked if he would comment for the story, McDougall said “no thanks.”
Global News sent messages on social media to Storie Wednesday. He did not respond. An email sent to Winnipeg Alternative Media came back undeliverable.
“To date, the Defendants have not published a formal retraction and/or an apology,” reads the lawsuit.
None of the defendants have filed a statement of defence. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Kinnarath is asking for general damages totalling up to $1.2 million, punitive damages in the amount of $150,000 and special damages to be determined at trial.
“As you can imagine, this was not something that was easy to handle,” Kinnarath said.
“The knowledge that operatives within a registered political party in Canada felt they could call me a terrorist with impunity, I can’t tell you about the stress it caused.”
Kinnarath says he has since had to increase his personal security, including changing his phone number every few months, taking different routes to places he frequents, and hiring more security for his store when it was open.
“Having those tough conversations with my son about why some people think their dad is a terrorist, that’s definitely hard to tell my family about; (that) there are certain people that because of who I am, because of what I believe, consider me this way.”
He is also seeking to have the videos removed and all copies destroyed, and full apologies from each defendant.
Martin Masse, a spokesperson for the PPC, said the party’s lawyers are looking at the lawsuit and had no comment.
Kinnarath and the National Council of Canadian Muslims will be holding a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the lawsuit.