Supreme Court of Canada to hear appeal of Quebec comedian on joke complaint


OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has decided to hear the appeal of Quebec comedian Mike Ward in a high-profile human-rights case.

Ward is appealing a decision by Quebec’s highest court that largely upheld a human rights tribunal’s ruling requiring the comedian to pay damages to a disabled singer he mocked.

As per its custom, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for why it has decided to hear the case.

In an earlier Quebec court decision, two of three judges said Ward’s comments about Jeremy Gabriel’s disability compromised the young performer’s right to the safeguarding of his dignity and could not be justified, even in a society where freedom of expression is valued.

A 2016 Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordered Ward to pay $35,000 in moral and punitive damages to Gabriel based on comments he made during shows between 2010 and 2013.

Gabriel has Treacher Collins syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by skull and facial deformities.

He became a celebrity in Quebec after he sang with Celine Dion and for the Pope.

In his act, Ward joked that he thought Gabriel’s illness was terminal and people were only nice to him because he would soon die.

Ward then joked that after he realized the child was not going to die, he tried to drown him.

Ward has defended himself on Twitter, saying comedy is not a crime.

“In a ‘free’ country, it shouldn’t be up to a judge to decide what constitutes a joke on stage,” Ward has tweeted.

“The people in attendance laughing already answered that question.”