Ten years ago, as part of his comedy show, a Canadian actor joked about a young singer with a disability. That this joke ended before the Supreme Court of the country.
Jeremy Gabriel was born with Treacher Collin Syndrome, a genetic disorder that can affect the bone structure of the face, causing serious deafness in its condition.
Despite this, he fulfilled his dream and became a singer, performing his songs for public figures such as singer Celine Dion and former pope Benedict XVI.
It was all before he reached his boys, and he had achieved celebrity status in his hometown of Quebec, Canada.
And in general 2010Famous Quebec comedian Mike Ward, known for his dumb humor, gave a 90-minute show.
In addition to the difficult problems of race, religion, etc., Ward’s comedy focused on what he called the “holy cow” of the district’s famous galaxy, people who, in his opinion, for various reasons – very rich, very powerful – and viewed as beyond the bounds of any cynicism.
But the outcome of that show lasted nearly a decade and ended on February 15, when the Canadian Supreme Court considered a lengthy legal battle over a joke Ward had said about Gabriel.
As part of the show, Ward focused on Quebec-born singer Celine Dion and her late husband Renee Angelel.
It also appeared in his show Gabriel, which became known in the press as “Jeremy Little” and which released an album and a biography.
Ward mocked him in a clip of his presentation in which Gabriel described his appearance and limitation.
If the joke is taken away from Ward’s performance or is read in court documents, it can be difficult to know why the audience laughed, but they laughed with amusement.
Ward scolds her, “I did not know how far I could go with this joke. At one point I said to myself, ‘You keep going too far, and they will stop laughing. But the opposite happened, they did not Stop with laughter. ‘”
The show went live more than 200 times between 2010 and 2013, with copies sold online.
Gabriel first came up against Ward’s jokes about him in 2010, when he was 13 and starting high school. He was already bullying, and he said an incoming offer had intensified his bullying.
“I never went a day without someone telling me one of his jokes,” the 24-year-old says.
Gabriel felt right because of his disability, and began to retire socially and seriously consider suicide. But Gabriel’s family did not communicate directly with the comedian here.
“Because of the nature of the jokes, and because of what they said, we thought we were not being taken seriously,” Gabriel says.
Then in 2012, they heard Ward in a popular news show about the joke.
“He compared himself to a cocaine addict, and said he had to tell jokes related to the ban,” the court documents state.
That was when the family filed a human rights complaint.
And when Ward’s case was brought before the Quebec Court of Human Rights – a specialized court that deals with discrimination cases like harassment under the Provincial Bill of Rights – the comedian lost.
The court concluded that he “exceeded the limits of freedom of expression” and that his jokes were discriminatory on the basis of restraint.
Ward appealed the ruling, and in a 2019 decision, the appellant upheld the court’s ruling, in addition to the $ 35,000 Canadian dollars ($ 27,500; £ 20,000) that Gabriel was awarded in damages.
“The court’s intention is not to restrict creativity or impose censorship on the opinions of artists,” the ruling said. “Comedians, like other citizens, are responsible for the consequences of their words if they cross certain red lines.”
And Ward had already decided that if he lost, he would try to take the fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Comedy is not a crime,” he said in a statement following the verdict. In a “free” country, it does not have to be the judge to decide what the joke looks like on stage.
He said laughter from the crowd “has already answered that question.”
Ward said he refuses to pay compensation “not for my sake, but for the sake of young comedians, the artists of tomorrow,” considering it essential to the profession that comedians may take risks.
In his argument in court, he said that Gabriel is a public figure, therefore he can be talked about in comedies.
Gabriel replied, “Your rights are not denied simply because you are a public figure.”
He added: “It’s gone too far – and I firmly and firmly believe in it.”
Many comedians, in Quebec and elsewhere, expressed their support for Ward.
The support comes amid concerns in stand-up comedy circles that it has found itself at the center of controversies over political correctness, freedom of expression and censorship.
Michael Lifshitz is a Canadian comedian born with multiple congenital musculoskeletal disorders and uses comedy to educate people about disability.
When the case first hit the headlines, he used a joke: “I will sue myself for the jokes I make about my limitation because I admit that some of my jokes are inappropriate.”
Lifshitz said he does not want to be treated differently because of his condition – even if it’s just a joke – and sees the case as a missed opportunity to change social attitudes about disability.
“I’m not sure what momentum a case for the test could give to the problem of integrating people with a disability into society or preventing victims of bullying,” he said.
“I think it’s a dangerous precedent if the court says what you can and cannot say – that should be left to the court of public opinion.”
Before the Supreme Court hearing, Gabriel said two sides of the case had their case.
“I think it’s important to stand up for what you believe in,” Gabriel said. “I think that’s what I did and I think that’s what Mike Ward did” when he decided to go ahead and fight the court decision, he says.
He added: “I also adhere to my belief that freedom of expression is not freedom of action.”
Ward has said sarcastically in the past that if he lost the last round, he “would go to Syria or Saudi Arabia or any other country that respects freedom of expression more than Canada.”