Canadian Comedian Ordered to Pay $35,000 over a Joke
Canadian comedian Mike Ward has lost his appeal and has been ordered by a Quebec judge to pay $35,000 because of a joke he told about a disabled boy.
Ward was ordered to pay $35,000 to Jeremy Gabriel, who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes facial deformity and affects his hearing, due to a joke the comedian told at shows between 2010 and 2013.
Two of three judges ruled Mike Ward’s comments regarding Gabriel were not justifiable in a society where freedom of expression is valued.
Ward was originally ordered to pay an additional $7,000 to Gabriel’s mother—a fine which the courts overturned due to the indirect relationship between the joke and the boy’s mother.
The joke in question was regarding Gabriel’s disability. In 2005, Gabriel sang to Pope Benedict and Celine Dion to flesh out his dream of becoming an international singer.
Ward’s jokes called Gabriel a bad singer, stating that he was “terminally ill” and that Gabriel not passing away meant that his “Make a Wish” was invalid. Gabriel was not actually terminally ill, as Gabriel’s genetic disease—Treacher Collins syndrome—does not generally have an effect on lifespan. He was also not a Make-a-Wish kid, as Ward was embellishing the story for the sake of the joke.
Ward’s jokes make have been tasteless, but does that mean he should have to pay $35,000? I don’t think so, but the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled the joke was discrimination against Gabriel and his parents and ordered Ward to pay damages for “making discriminatory comments regarding Jéremy Gabriel, infringing his right to equality.”
Here’s a Mike Ward special from earlier this year where he talks about what’s happened to him. Please note there’s plenty of offensive language in it.
Mike Ward responded to the verdict on Twitter, declaring that he refuses to pay the fine, and plans to take this fight to the Supreme Court. “In a ‘free’ country, it shouldn’t be up to a judge to decide what constitutes a joke on stage. The people in attendance laughing already answered that question.”
“I’m telling you right now, I [sic] rather go to prison than pay even one-tenth of this stupid fine.”
Ward’s case will likely have huge implications in Canada and elsewhere as to what constitutes free expression and what constitutes discrimination. It’s hard to say what will come of Ward’s case, but I’m failing to see how a joke can be deemed discrimination by any sensible human being. “Comedy isn’t a crime,” Ward says, and he's right. Being mocked doesn’t entitle to you to financial restitution.
There’s a part of me that wants to dismiss this as something that could only happen in Canada, but I know that’s not true. American comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen have spoken about how political correctness is ruining comedy here in the States. Think about it, even Christian bakers can’t refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding without having a six-figure fine levied on them. Free expression and religious liberty are slowly becoming outmoded concepts, and that should frighten everyone.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis