Calgary

'Belligerent' Calgary mayoral candidate pleads guilty to criminal charges on Day 1 of trial

Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston — who is a leader in the COVID-19 denial movement — has pleaded guilty to two criminal charges on what was supposed to be the first day of his trial.

Kevin J. Johnston has been in custody since May 26

Kevin J. Johnston pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and causing a disturbance in provincial court in Calgary on Monday. (YouTube)

A Calgary mayoral candidate — who is a leader in the COVID-19 denial movement and was recently described by a judge as "dangerous and out of control" — has pleaded guilty to both of his criminal charges on what was supposed to be the first day of his trial.

Kevin J. Johnston pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of an Alberta Health Services employee whose family photos he posted online along with threatening messages.

Johnston was also convicted of causing a disturbance at the Core shopping centre when he became belligerent with employees after being asked to wear a mask.

Arrested on May 26, Johnston has served about 10 weeks, when enhanced credit is considered, and will be released later Monday. He'll be subject to probation conditions for nine months.

'Belligerent and aggressive'

Provincial court Judge Harry Van Harten accepted the facts agreed upon by defence lawyer Balfour Der, his client and prosecutor Peter Mackenzie.

According to the facts, Johnston became "belligerent and aggressive" at the mall and caused employees to fear for their safety, believing they "were about to be assaulted."

Johnston also admitted to harassing an AHS inspector over a month-long period during which he posted threats and images of the woman and her family.

Johnston threatened to show up at the woman's home and throw her in jail. He encouraged his followers to find her address.

Johnston's victim feared for children's safety

In a May 13 post, Johnston said he would make the inspector's life miserable and suggested she leave the province.

In a victim impact statement read by Mackenzie, the inspector wrote that the experience had been "overwhelming" and she constantly feared for her safety when she left her home.

The woman called the harassment "extremely distressing" and said she had to explain a safety plan to her children.

Johnston's "hatred and bullying" caused the victim to have to miss work and consult psychologists.

Johnston plans to move family to Calgary

Johnston is married and has two children, 18- and 19-years-old, who are in Ontario.

The judge has allowed Johnston three weeks to leave Alberta to go back to Ontario for the purposes of moving his family to Calgary, where he still plans to run for mayor.

Mayoral candidates with a criminal record or facing charges are not precluded from running for office in Calgary. They simply can't have broken any election laws or owe money to the city.

"My client's research led him, at times, to have a contrary position to that taken by AHS," said Der in his submissions. 

"His approach was overly enthusiastic."

'Venomous, hateful and threatening'

Johnston is in a host of legal trouble in Calgary after arriving seven months ago from Ontario to run for mayor and to help lead a pandemic-denying, anti-mask movement.

Earlier this month, an Alberta judge described Johnston as "frightening" and "venomous."

Ten days ago, Johnston was found guilty on three counts of civil contempt for defying judges' orders aimed at controlling frequent rule-breakers who incited others to defy public health restrictions.

Until he was taken into custody on May 26, Johnston hosted web broadcasts and online video streams where he would post angry, threatening rants, with much of his rage directed at AHS employees.

'A dangerous, out-of-control individual'

Some of those videos were presented as evidence at Johnston's civil contempt hearing.

In a scathing 20-page decision, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Adam Germain did not mince words, calling Johnston's behaviour "venomous, hateful and threatening."

"Most people who have the misfortune of listening to Mr. Johnston would be terrified by the extent of his animus, his frightening facial features and his threats expressed in certain terms," wrote Germain.

Johnston has said several times on video posted to his social media accounts that he is prepared to arm himself and go to the homes of health officials to arrest those who have taken enforcement actions. 

"He presents as a dangerous, out-of-control individual," said Germain after watching the videos. "The malice that Mr. Johnston expresses is simply beyond the pale of normal social discourse."

Criminal charges in 3 provinces

Following months of threats, AHS filed a $1.3-million defamation lawsuit against Johnston.

Since his arrest, Johnston has twice been denied bail, deemed too high a risk to reoffend.

Johnston is also facing assault charges in British Columbia and hate crime charges in Ontario.

In 2017, Johnston posted a video to YouTube offering a $1,000 reward for recordings of Muslim students in southern Ontario "spewing hate speech during Friday prayers."

In the video, Johnston urges people to conceal cameras to get footage to him. "Whatever it takes, get that to me," he said.

Later that year, Peel Regional Police charged Johnston with one count of willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group under the Criminal Code Section 319 (2). 

Police said at the time that the charge wasn't tied to one specific incident, but rather "multiple incidents that the investigators were looking at."

With files from Shanifa Nasser

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