Mike Ward jokes were not about Jérémy Gabriel's disability, lawyer says

The lawyer for Quebec comedian Mike Ward is arguing jokes made about Jérémy Gabriel were not about the teenager's disability.

Closing arguments heard at human rights tribunal case over controversial comedy bit

French-language comedy star Mike Ward (Just For Laughs)

The lawyer for Quebec comedian Mike Ward is arguing jokes made about Jérémy Gabriel were not about the teenager's disability.

In his closing arguments before the province's human rights tribunal today, Julius Grey said the comedy bit was in fact about his personal appearance and singing ability.

He called Ward's comedy "dark humour" and said he liked to speak out about taboos, arguing that the human rights case represented an affront to freedom of expression.

Ward is the subject of a 2012 complaint to the tribunal after Ward ridiculed Jérémy Gabriel in his comedy show, Mike Ward s'eXpose.

Gabriel, who is now 19, became well-known in Quebec after he was flown to Rome to sing for Pope Benedict in 2006.

He has Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic condition that causes disfigurement. In the comedy bit, Ward said at first he was happy Gabriel was getting so much attention following the 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!" Ward said.  

Discrimination versus freedom of expression

Earlier Friday, Gabriel's lawyer Marie Dominique argued the case was about discrimination. She said there was a difference between making fun of a public figure and making fun of a child with a disability.

Dominique said Ward's jokes reinforced stereotypes of people with disabilities.

In his testimony earlier in the week, Gabriel said Ward went too far in his jokes about him. He said the jokes hurt his confidence and his career and led to intimidation at his school.

"It was horrible during all those years to endure, to be a teen, to be a successful artist, with all those comments, with all those laughs,"  Gabriel testified.

"So I wanted to say that it's not acceptable for me and for my family. And I think for the entire society too."

A decision on this case isn't expected for at least five months.


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