Joke’s On Who?
July 22nd, 2016 – Canadian shock comic Mike Ward has just been ordered to pay the subject of one of his jokes $35,000. The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled Wednesday that Jérémy Gabriel will be awarded the 35k and that his mother will be owed $7,000 for moral and punitive damages for the jokes Ward made about the now 19-year-old singer’s disability.
As reported by our site earlier in February, Ward had been telling a joke during his sets since 2010 in which he mocked Gabriel as he suffered from Treacher Collins syndrome – a genetic disease that causes facial disfigurement. Gabriel gained a large following in 2006 after being flown to sing for Pope Benedict when he was just 10-years-old.
In his act, Ward said that at first he was happy that Gabriel was getting so much attention for his papal visit….
“But now, five years later, and he’s still not dead.… Me, I defended him, like an idiot, and he won’t die.”
He continued on saying:
“He’s unkillable. I saw him at the water park. I tried to drown him, but I couldn’t. Then I went on the Internet to figure out what was wrong with him, and you know what it was? He’s ugly, goddammit.”
Gabriel and his lawyer, Marie Dominique, set forth the argument that the joke went too far, reinforced stereotypes of disabled people, and even lead to bullying and contemplation of suicide for the pre-teen. He told CBCNews he had wanted to accept who he was and be an example to others that you can do whatever you want with your life but he lost confidence and hope after the continued jokes.
He now is telling the site that he’s happy with the verdict. “”It’s a big relief, and at the same time I’m surprised,” Gabriel said. “I was happy with the decision yesterday.” The decision backs the beliefs his lawyer expressed throughout the trial which stated the difference between making fun of a public figure and making fun of a disabled child.
Ward and his attorney, Julius Grey, are already planning an appeal and have expressed their total disagreement with the entirety of the ruling. The comedian has also continued to tell the joke – most recently at Montreal’s “Just For Laugh’s” festival.
The founder of the festival, Gilbert Rozon, has expressed concerns about the future of freedom of expression as a result of the ruling.
“I think freedom of expression — like the assumption of innocence — is something we’ve worked hard for over many centuries,” he said.
“I’m always worried when we get too involved in it, putting down rules, laws, over what we can and cannot say. It always gives me a certain fear.”
Ward seems intent on keeping his jokes alive and the battle for freedom of expression still up for debate.