Comic's lawyer attacks B.C. rights panel

The lawyer representing a standup comedian accused of targeting a lesbian couple with a homophobic and sexist tirade has walked out of a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing, calling it illegal.

Lawyer for Toronto comedian walks out of hearing, claiming it has no jurisdiction

Comedian Guy Earle told CBC News he made some offensive comments to silence some hecklers. (CBC)

The lawyer representing a standup comedian accused of targeting a lesbian couple with a homophobic and sexist tirade has walked out of a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing, calling it illegal. 

Lawyer James Millar told the tribunal it shouldn't be hearing the case against his client, Toronto comedian Guy Earle, because the human rights code doesn't trump Earle's right to freedom of expression.

Millar then walked out of the hearing, saying he can't participate in what he calls an illegal proceeding because the adjudicator hasn't even decided if the tribunal has jurisdiction.

The hearing continued without him.

Earle is accused of making offending comments while volunteering as the host of an "open mic" comedy night at Zesty's Restaurant on Vancouver's Commercial Drive in May 2007.

Before the hearing began Millar, told CBC News the B.C. Human Rights Code should not have jurisdiction over this case because his client was engaged in an artistic performance, not providing a service at the restaurant.

"My concern is, first of all, I don't believe this provision of this statute was designed to restrict artistic expression," Millar said.

But the lawyer representing Lorna Pardy claims the comedian, the restaurant and the restaurant's owner violated the B.C. Human Rights Code.

Pardy and her same-sex partner had come inside from the restaurant's outdoor patio and were watching the show when they then became the subject of a tirade of homophobic comments launched by Earle, according to lawyer Devyn Cousineau.

"This is a case about the type of treatment that every person in B.C. is entitled to expect when they patronize a restaurant or another place of business," Cousineau said.

The CBC was unable to reach Pardy for comment, but her complaint to the tribunal alleges she was discriminated against in the provision of a service, in breach of Section 8 of the Human Rights Code, on the basis of her "sex and sexual orientation."

Artistic freedom argued

Earle claims Pardy and the people at her table were heckling him.

He told the CBC that trying to stop hecklers can be unpopular, "but it shouldn't be illegal."

"They pissed me off, so I said some rude things," Earle says in a video about the incident he posted on YouTube.

In the video, Earle also admits he broke Pardy's sunglasses in a confrontation after the show, but only after Pardy threw two drinks in his face.

Salam Ismail, the owner of Zesty's, previously told CBC News he did not discriminate against the couple and was not responsible for the incident.

Some media outlets said Pardy was asking for $20,000 in compensation, but her lawyer told CBC News she was only asking for whatever the tribunal thinks is fair. The hearing began Monday morning in Vancouver and is scheduled to last four days.

Tribunal governs rights enforcement

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is the sole agency responsible for enforcing the B.C. Human Rights Code, which applies to all provincial and municipal government institutions, private businesses, credit unions, non-profits, rental accommodations and real estate transactions.

At the federal level, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal enforce the Canadian Human Rights Act, a similar piece of legislation, which applies to federal institutions, banks, telecommunications and intra-provincial transportation companies and associated unions.