In the on-going saga where comedian Mike Ward has been on trial in Canada for telling jokes, took quite a turn. Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that Ward must pay Jérémy Gabriel $35,000 for making jokes that “violated his rights.”
The penalty? $25,000 for moral damages and another $10,000 for punitive damages. And it doesn’t stop there. He’s also been ordered to pay Gabriel’s mother Sylvie $5,000 for moral damages and $2,000 for punitive damages. This all stems from Ward making fun of Gabriel in his comedy act as far back as 2010 with a formal complaint being made to the Human Rights Tribunal in 2012.
Jérémy Gabriel is a singer who happens to have was is called Treacher Collins syndrome and struck fame in the eyes of the public when he was asked to sing for the Pope in 2006. As reported by CBC News, “The plaintiff argued the jokes gravely affected Gabriel’s dignity.” Gabriel’s lawyer Marie Dominique also argued that “there is a difference between making fun of a public figure and making fun of a child with a disability.” Ultimately, the judge felt the jokes went to far exceeding “freedom of expression.”
“I think freedom of expression — like the assumption of innocence — is something we’ve worked hard for over many centuries,” the founder of the Just for Laughs festival, Gilbert Rozon stated. “I’m always worried when we get too involved in it, putting down rules, laws, over what we can and cannot say. It always gives me a certain fear.”
Ward has upcoming appearances at said festival scheduled for next week as part of The Nasty Show. Ward’s comedian friends staged a silent protest for the comedian after he boycotted a Quebec comedy award show earlier this year. Let’s see if they show up again to raise funds to pay off the money for damages.
With the ruling coming down the way it did, it begs the question moving forward, will comedians second guess jokes they choose to tell on stage in fear they might wind up in a similar circumstance? What do you think of the judge’s ruling on this case? Let us know in the comment section and let’s get this all important discussion started.