Racist former Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston has been arrested in the U.S. after failing to show up to a Toronto courthouse to begin serving an 18-month jail term for violating an Ontario judge's hate speech order.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told CBC News Johnston was arrested Tuesday for illegally entering the country on foot near Plentywood, Mont., after border agents were requested to help to track down an individual lost near the Montana/North Dakota state line.
A person found "wandering on foot" was later identified as Johnston — "a Canadian fugitive wanted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," the agency said in a statement.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not say if Johnston was charged for illegally crossing the border, if he will be allowed back into the country. On Tuesday night, Johnston was being processed and turned over to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), a U.S. border patrol spokesperson said.
The RCMP told CBC News that Johnston was taken back into Canadian custody in Regway, Sask., on Tuesday.
Calgary police say Johnston is expected to be returned to the city on Friday. It's unclear if any additional charges will be laid against him.
Johnston hoped to claim political asylum, lawyer says
In a statement shared by his lawyer Ian McCuaig on Wednesday, Johnston said he crossed the border hoping to claim political asylum "due to the treatment I have experienced over the last five years because of political persecution by the Canadian Government."
The statement noted that during that period, Johnston had to appear in court 266 times and that he served five months of prison time on account of what he said are his "conservative views."
Johnston was convicted in July of two counts of contempt after spending months inciting his followers to defy Alberta's public health measures, and received a 40-day intermittent sentence, which he was serving on weekends.
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.
Arrest warrant issued earlier
At the time of his arrest, Johnston was wanted in Ontario and Alberta after failing to show up for jail sentences in both provinces.
Most recently, he was scheduled to be at the courthouse at 361 University Ave in Toronto at 10 a.m. Tuesday to begin serving his 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 known for his charitable acts such as distributing thousands of free meals to frontline workers during the pandemic.
In sentencing Johnston in October, 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 in effect for his arrest.
WATCH | Mohamad Fakih describes the honour of being appointed the Order of Canada:
"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.
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."
Johnston failed to complete Alberta jail term
Johnston was to begin his Ontario sentence after completing his Calgary sentence, which he had been serving on weekends.
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.