A Gwich’in runner who championed the cause of missing and murdered Indigenous women made false domestic violence allegations to further his reputation, a judge ruled April 6.
Yukon Supreme Court deputy judge John Menzies ordered Brad Firth, known as Caribou Legs, to pay Raymond Gagnon $60,000 in damages for libelous statements Firth made.
During a cross-country tour to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016, Firth was quoted in 16 different news outlets accusing Gagnon of killing his partner, Firth’s sister.
“I don’t even know how he could say something like that,” said Gagnon outside the courtroom. “(Firth) used my wife, (and) her death, that’s what he did.”
Gagnon and Firth’s sister, Irene Korte, were married for about 20 years when Korte died in February 2015. Yukon’s Chief Coroner ruled the death accidental.
Firth never appeared in court or filed any sort of defence.
To this day Firth has maintained his comments, despite Yukon Supreme Court finding he defamed Gagnon.
Menzies found the defamation to be “a serious one.”
Not only did Firth make those accusations without any sort of evidence, but he made no attempt to contact Gagnon and used Korte’s death to “enhance his own credibility.”
“I don’t know how the allegations can be seen as anything but defamatory,” Menzies said.
What’s worse, the judge said, Firth played on a sensitive topic. Firth’s accusation that his brother-in-law, who is white, of killing his sister, a First Nation woman, had “extreme negative effects in (Gagnon’s) own community,” Menzies said.
“Defamation takes on a new scale in a day and age of the Internet,” Menzies said.
Firth also enjoys a large internet presence, unlike Gagnon.
“(Firth) used his internet persona and media soapbox to attack Gagnon,” Menzies said.
Menzies ordered Firth pay $45,000 in general damages, $10,000 in aggravated damages, and about $5,000 in legal costs, which Gagnon’s lawyer, Michelle Chan, requested.
The fact Firth repeated the libelous statements during 16 different interviews shows it wasn’t an error, Chan said.
Gagnon told reporters he was satisfied with the judgment.
He said Firth wasn’t close to his sister and hadn’t seen her in years. Firth, he said, never bothered talking to the police, the coroner, or calling him.
“I hope to hell he lets her rest,” Gagnon said.
But it might be difficult for Gagnon to get Firth to pay the settlement.
Firth has no fixed address and Gagnon’s lawyers had to resort to buying ads in a news paper` in Vancouver — where Firth was thought to live at the time the lawsuit was filed — and emailing Firth to serve him with the lawsuit.
But a judgment in the Yukon is valid for 10 years and can be renewed, said Jim Tucker, who also represented Gagnon.
“We will be there for a long time and we will be vigilant,” he said. “If we can find anything that can be used to satisfy the judgment, we will do that.”
When reached for comment, Firth maintained his libellous statements and made additional remarks, which the News chose not to publish.
On the day Menzies ordered the damages, Firth published a picture of himself on his Facebook page, writing, “I seek justice for Irene.”
Firth has about 27,000 followers on his Facebook page, and judging by the comments his post garnered, most seem unaware of the court decision.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org