Comedian Ordered to Pay $42K for Offensive Joke
A Canadian human rights court ordered a comedian to pay $42,000 to a disabled teen singer and his mother after making repeated jokes about the boy's appearance in his stand-up routine.
Jeremy Gabriel has a facial disfigurement due to Treacher Collins Syndrome. He received some international attention in 2006 when he performed for the pope in Rome.
Comedian Mike Ward incorporated a joke about Gabriel into his comedy routine between 2010-2013 where he'd say he went on the Internet to find out what was wrong with Gabriel, and the answer was: "He's ugly, g-----n it."
The joke was also featured in Ward's comedy special Mike Ward's eXpose.
Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Ward violated Gabriel's "right to equality" and ordered him to pay $35,000 in punitive damages, plus an additional $7,000 to Gabriel's mother. The plaintiff had argued that Ward's jokes were discrimination; saying that it hurt Gabriel's dignity and career, caused him to be bullied in school, and went beyond free expression.
“I didn’t know there was a Human Rights Tribunal until I got sued,” Ward said during a comedy set Wednesday night. “One day the caller ID read: Human Rights Tribunal. When I answered the woman said, ‘Mr. Ward, we’re calling you about one of your jokes. We think you know the one.'”
Ward's lawyer argues that Ward was exercising freedom of expression and that his client was operating within the norms of comedy.
The lawyer said they will appeal the decision.
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