Rough day for comedians and free speech advocates in Canada, as it’s been announced that comedian Mike Ward, who’s been in hot water over some jokes he made about a disabled teenager back in 2010, has lost his court case in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
For those not familiar with the situation, read the interview Ward did with the IBang back in May.
Back in 2010, Canadian comic Mike Ward was performing his stand-up show, s’eXpose, which included a few jokes about teenager Jeremy Gabriel. Gabriel, who was well known in Canada at the time as the boy who sang for the Pope in the Vatican, has Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic disorder that leads to physical deformities. Ward performed the bit, which he said was always well-received, for two-plus years until 2012, when he was contacted by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and informed that he was being sued to the tune of $80,000 by the Gabriel family. What followed was a protracted court case that has plagued both Ward and Gabriel’s lives, and which only finally came to an end this week after four years of toil.
Speaking with the IBang, Ward was confident in his position: that he was, as a Canadian citizen, entitled to free speech and that part of that right allowed him to joke about whomever and whatever he liked while on stage. As it turns out, the HRT’s Judge Scott Hughes disagreed with that assessment, and is now demanding that Ward pay a total of $42,000 to Gabriel and his family.
Montreal’s CBC News posted an excellent breakdown of Judge Hughes’ ruling, saying that it eventually came down to two things: the exact wording of Canada’s free speech laws, and the exact definition of what can be considered “damages” on behalf of the plaintiffs. See, Canada’s free speech laws aren’t as all-encompassing as they are here in the U.S. So while free speech here is considered to be “any speech that isn’t a direct threat of harm to someone,” in Canada it’s considered to be “speech that aims at truth, speech that contributes to social and political decision making, or speech that is an expression of self-fulfillment.” Under that definition of free speech, Ward’s comments don’t seem to be covered. At that point, all the judge had to do was gauge whether Jeremy Gabriel’s “dignity, honour or reputation” had been damaged, which was supported by Gabriel’s assertion that he had his confidence dashed by the joke, which resulted in his being bullied at school and his attempted suicide.
Immediately after the ruling was announced, Ward stated on Twitter that he’d be appealing the HRT’s decision and would continue to fight the case until he was vindicated.
Even Rocky lost the first one, we're gonna appeal.
— Mike Ward (@MikeWardca) July 21, 2016
Unsurprisingly, Ward mouthed off about the case within hours of learning the court’s decision, while on stage for The Nasty Show at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival. As a big middle finger to the whole situation, he even retold the jokes from the infamous bit, called Petit Jérémy, to the crowd there.
As he made abundantly clear on Wednesday night, Ward is not going to rest until he is cleared of all wrong-doing in this case. As he told the IBang back in May, he’s not a saint, but he’s not a bad guy either. When he takes the stage, it’s in an attempt to make people laugh, not make them upset or angry.
“I’m not as good of a person as people that like me think I am, but I’m not as bad of a person that people who hate me think that I am. I respect everyone, but on stage, I respect no one.” That’s a mantra that would sound normal coming out of any comic’s mouth, and this is a situation that could set a scary precedent for comics in Canada and abroad, so here’s hoping that Ward finds the vindication he deserves.