Comedian Mike Ward's mockery of disabled singer not discriminatory: Supreme Court

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada says comedian Mike Ward's comments about a disabled singer did not amount to discrimination under Quebec's rights charter.

In a 5-4 ruling today, the high court set aside a decision ordering Ward to pay damages for mocking Jérémy Gabriel, saying a discrimination claim must not become a defamation action.

The high-profile case pitted artistic expression, in the form of dark comedy, against the protection of one's dignity.

Gabriel, who has Treacher Collins syndrome — a congenital disorder characterized by skull and facial deformities — became a celebrity in Quebec after he sang with Celine Dion and for the Pope.

In his act, which took aim at well-known figures considered beyond mockery, Ward joked he thought Gabriel's illness was terminal and people were only nice to him because he would soon die.

In 2016, Quebec's human rights tribunal ordered Ward to pay $35,000 in moral and punitive damages to Gabriel based on remarks Ward made during shows between 2010 and 2013.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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