Brad Firth, a Gwich’in runner known as Caribou Legs, is being sued for libel over accusations he made of domestic violence.
In a lawsuit filed on Dec. 13 in Yukon Supreme Court, Raymond Gagnon claims Firth defamed him by implying he killed Firth’s sister.
Firth is an ultra-marathon runner who attracted attention worldwide for running across the country in support of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
During his cross-country tour last spring Firth talked at length about how the cause he championed hit close to home because his own sister died of domestic violence, the lawsuit says.
Gagnon and Firth’s sister, Irene Korte, got married in 1995. In the lawsuit, Gagnon quotes Yukon Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald’s report about Korte’s February 2015 death, which ruled the death accidental.
The lawsuit quotes 16 instances in which Firth made public domestic violence allegations about his sister’s death.
Some merely imply Gagnon killed Korte, and in some he clearly accused Gagnon, without naming him, according to the lawsuit.
In an Aug. 28, 2016 article CBC News stated that Firth started his journey after his sister died of domestic violence. A correction published Nov. 3 at the end of the article says that “Firth’s family says his sister was not murdered.”
Other outlets including CTVNews and Metro News, still have articles about Firth’s run containing the domestic violence allegations.
Gagnon is seeking monetary compensation alleging Firth’s statements injured his reputation.
None of Gagnon’s claims have been proven in court.
He also wants the court to order Firth to apologize on his social media platforms. Over 22,000 people follow his public Facebook page.
Firth, who wasn’t aware of the lawsuit when the News spoke to him last week, said he was told his sister had bruises all over her torso when she was found dead.
“Where would those bruises come from?” he said. “I’m assuming there was physical violence as a result.”
He said he didn’t know Gagnon himself and that Korte never spoke about incidents of domestic violence.
“I don’t feel threatened by (the lawsuit),” Firth said, adding that he planned to defend himself.
According to the chief coroner’s report, Korte died of bleeding around the brain. Medication she was taking caused her to be drowsy, which resulted in Korte falling and hitting her head several times, which caused the hemorrhage, Macdonald found.
Macdonald’s report notes there were bruises on Korte, but does not say what caused those bruises.
“The autopsy revealed recent bruising to the body, including a dense bruise to the right part of the scalp, and a left sided black eye,” she wrote.
She also notes the presence of “healing scabbed injuries.”
But she doesn’t specifically attribute the bruises and the injuries to the medication or the fall.
The News asked Macdonald to clarify the cause of the bruises and other injuries, but didn’t hear back by press time.
Firth first attracted national attention when he ran 1,200 kilometres from Inuvik to Whitehorse in 2014 to deliver letters from fellow northerners urging then-Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski to protect the Peel watershed.
Last week he was in Vancouver, after finishing his latest cross-country run.
“There is a lot of angry upset worried women out there who get beaten, who get put down,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do around raising awareness around violence against women.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com