Caribou Legs loses defamation suit

A famous Gwich’in runner who championed the cause of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls made false domestic violence accusations, Yukon Supreme Court has ruled.

A famous Gwich’in runner who championed the cause of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls made false domestic violence accusations, Yukon Supreme Court has ruled.

In a March 2 default judgment the court found that Brad Firth, better known as Caribou Legs, defamed Raymond Gagnon when Firth claimed Gagnon murdered his partner, Firth’s sister.

Gagnon sued Firth in December 2016 and because Firth didn’t defend himself in court within the required timeframe, the court granted Gagnon a default judgment.

Yukon Supreme Court found 16 instances in which Firth publicly defamed Gagnon.

Some merely implied Gagnon killed Irene Korte, and in some he clearly accused Gagnon, without naming him, according to the judgment.

All of them were during interviews Firth gave to the media explaining that the death of his sister inspired him to run across the country to support MMIW.

The court ordered Firth to pay Gagnon general and punitive damages, as well as his legal costs.

Those costs haven’t been assessed yet, Gagnon’s lawyer, James Tucker, said.

Gagnon was emotional when reached by the News after learning of the default judgment.

“When I heard of the statements made by Brad Firth, it hurt me deeply,” he said.

Gagnon said he hardly knew Firth.

“I find it difficult to deal with the thought (that) my family or friends or even strangers might believe I caused her death.”

He also read out a statement he had prepared.

“I want the world to know that I loved Irene,” he said. “Her death was a terrible accident, and if you have heard that she died of domestic abuse at my hand, it is not true.”

Gagnon insisted that the judgment doesn’t reflect poorly on Firth’s cause.

“If Irene were still alive, she would be a supporter of the cause of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, and I am a supporter of that cause.”

In a message to the News, Firth said he wasn’t aware of the default judgment because he was “too busy running and advocating for victims’ rights.”

“In my defence, I wasn’t physically handed any lawsuit documents in person and frankly the decision has no bearing on my awareness running,” he said.

Because Tucker didn’t have an address to serve Firth, the Yukon Supreme Court allowed him to email the lawsuit to Firth.

The court also asked that Gagnon advertise the lawsuit in the Vancouver Sun — Firth was thought to be in Vancouver around the time the lawsuit was filed — in order to properly serve Firth.

Firth blamed the justice system, accusing it of ruling against victims and families.

“I’ll always run in memory of Irene and for those women who cannot speak,” he said. “My pounding footsteps scream out as their voices.”

When the lawsuit was filed, Firth said he planned to defend himself. He said at the time he was told his sister had bruises all over her torso when she was found dead.

He said he didn’t know Gagnon personally and that Korte never spoke about incidents of domestic violence.

Tucker said Firth never answered to the lawsuit.

While Gagnon was seeking an apology on top of monetary damages, Yukon Supreme Court only ordered the latter.

Tucker said he would likely contact websites still featuring the libellous interviews to have them scrubbed.

He acknowledged it would be difficult to make sure Firth complies with the order because he still doesn’t know his address.

“But we will do everything we can to see the order is given effect,” Tucker said.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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