A right wing social media personality and failed Calgary mayoral candidate defamed and harassed an Alberta Health Services public health inspector, an Alberta justice has decided.
The lawsuit brought by Nunn and the provincial health-care provider stem back to Johnston’s repeated threats against health inspectors.
The would-be mayor of Calgary and Mississauga was arrested multiple times for breaking pandemic-related public health orders and a temporary restraining order granted to AHS.
In a decision dated April 12, Justice Colin Feasby found that the combination of Johnston’s online broadcasts, blog posts and comments in the media that were “published and clearly referred to” Nunn were defamatory.
“On several occasions, Mr. Johnston engaged in rants on his show about Ms. Nunn. His rants about Ms. Nunn, were accompanied by pictures of Ms. Nunn and her family that he acquired from her unlocked social media accounts,” Feasby wrote.
“His rants belittled Ms. Nunn and her husband and were filled with pejorative descriptions.”
“Let me say clearly that Mr. Johnston’s statements about Ms. Nunn are both untrue and unfair. The pictures that Mr. Johnston harvested from her social media depict a person enjoying her life with her husband, family, and friends. Nothing about the photos provides even a shred of support for the scorn heaped on Ms. Nunn by Mr. Johnston.”
The defamation suit was served to Johnston in June 2021 while he was in the Calgary Remand Centre, where he was being held for violating the previous restraining order filed by AHS.
He was unable to file a defence with courts, so was determined to have a default judgement.
Johnston emailed the court to complain that the defamation suit was a SLAPP suit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation.
Recognizing Johnston had not filed a defence, Feasby said the lawsuit brought by AHS and Nunn was “not an abuse of process.”
“As is evident from the sampling of Mr. Johnston’s comments… his attacks on Ms. Nunn were deeply personal and not appropriate public discourse,” the justice wrote.
“Ms. Nunn was a private figure – she was not a politician or a member of the AHS leadership team – who was unwillingly thrust into the public spotlight by Mr. Johnston.”
Feasby also noted Johnston’s campaign to be mayor did not give him “license to turn Ms. Nunn and her family into the subject of public ridicule.”
The Court of King’s Bench judge found AHS could not sue for defamation due to its role as a government agency, but did make the previous restraining order permanent with some changes.
Johnston is restricted from coming within 50 metres of hospitals and AHS clinics, and 25 metres from the entrances of all other AHS facilities.
Despite granting Nunn $650,000 in damages – $300,000 for defamation, $100,000 for harassment and $250,000 for aggravated damages – Feasby doubted Johnston could pay.
“Mr. Johnston appears to have no financial resources and is already subject to a multi-million dollar defamation damages award in Ontario that he has not paid,” the justice wrote. “The $650,000 in general and aggravated damages awarded to Ms. Nunn in the present case are unlikely to be paid.
“Mr. Johnston is unrepentant, and I have no confidence that the damages award will function as any sort of disincentive to him continuing to defame and harass Ms. Nunn.”
Feasby decided the permanent restraining order was part of the remedy to Nunn to prevent Johnston from continuing to defame and harass her.
Johnston is also to pay all of Nunn’s legal fees.