LEVY: Vindication for Zionist defamed by former Toronto restaurateur
LEVY: Vindication for Zionist defamed by former Toronto restaurateur

A Jewish designer and proud Zionist has been awarded $85,000 in damages from an Ontario court for being defamed by the controversial former owner of Toronto’s Foodbenders.

The judgment by Ontario Superior Court Justice Gina Papageorgiou, which came down late last Friday, determined that Kimberley Hawkins defamed Shai DeLuca with the “dominant purpose of malice” in a series of Instagram posts in July of 2020.

“This case illustrates what can happen when a person’s passionate views and their discourse about social or political issues cross the line and become defamatory attacks against an individual,” Papageorgiou wrote.

She added that during her testimony, Hawkins showed “considerable animosity towards the IDF, Zionism and those who support Zionism … she stated her belief that Mr. DeLuca stood for the ideology of terrorism, as such.”

The award and judgment represent a three-year-long court battle against Hawkins and her Foodbenders business after she used her Instagram account in the early summer of 2020 to comment on the last conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

Lawyer David Elmaleh said he’s so pleased for his client, DeLuca, who he said has been “publicly vindicated in court” following a full and fair trial.

“This hard fought precedent-setting case will deter some (but sadly not all) from the antisemitic vitriol that we have seen online targeting Jews, Israelis and the brave IDF soldiers and first responders,” Elmaleh said. “This case is the first we know of involving a successful defamation action advanced by an IDF veteran in Canada relating to his military service.”

Hawkins was represented by Stephen Ellis, who is also representing Sarah Jama, the member of Ontario’s legislature who was kicked out of the NDP caucus in October for her anti-Israel rants, which continue to this day.

I broke the story of Hawkins’ anti-Zionist posts on July 2, 2020 after she posted #Zionistsnotwelcome in her Bloor St. shop.

Over the course of that year, I did upwards of a dozen stories detailing how she faced human rights complaints, a city licensing complaint, deplatforming by UberEats and DoorDash and this defamation suit.

Like DeLuca, I was harassed on social media by Hawkins and her vicious supporters.

DeLuca, who appears on Cityline regularly, says his experience with Hawkins commenced in early July as well when he shared articles and other people’s posts about #zionistsnotwelcome on his Facebook page.

On July 4, while at the barber across the street from her shop, Hawkins spotted him taking pictures of her shop.

According to the judgment, she followed them and “yelled profanities at them.”

While Hawkins claimed DeLuca had been “pestering” Palestinian supporters of her store (the same comments she made about me), the judge found no evidence of that.

The defamatory posts began on July 6 of that year when Hawkins reposted an Instagram comment stating that DeLuca was gathering “other whining Zionist friends to attack Palestinians and others in support of @foodbenders. He’s an IDF soldier (aka terrorist) yet he’s using the BLM movement for likes. How can you sit here and post about BLM when you have your sniper rifle aimed at Palestinian children.”

Hawkins tried to distance herself from the antisemitic claims made about her by posting a press release on July 16 claiming she “loved Jewish people.”

But the judgment says she never apologized for the July 6 post against DeLuca or printed a retraction.

After DeLuca appeared on Breakfast Television, the sister news program to Cityline, to discuss antisemitism and the July 6 post, Hawkins doubled down on July 30 on her Instagram page.

She referred to DeLuca as a “racist,” a “vicious” hater of Palestinians and a “killer” who was trying to “cancel” her.

Papageorgiou concluded that none of the statements in the July 6 post could be considered “fair comment” and that by also inviting her followers to write to City TV to “cancel” DeLuca in the July 30 post she was also demonstrating “ill will and intent.”

The judge awarded an extra $10,000 in punitive damages – on top of the $75,000 in general damages – to express the court’s “outrage and so as to deter a defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct.”

“It is required to deter the defendants and others from the kinds of irresponsible and defamatory posts made by the defendant,” said Papageorgiou.

Elmaleh says while it may not deter antisemitic hatred, this precedent-setting judgment puts Canadians on notice.

As he notes: “You will be held personally liable and you will sustain personal financial loss by maliciously and recklessly spreading falsehoods, hate and defamatory content over the internet.”

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