Montreal

Mike Ward, 'Petit Jérémy' case brings out defenders and critics

The case of Quebec comedian Mike Ward versus Jérémy Gabriel before the province's human rights tribunal has brought out supporters of freedom of expression but also has critics saying the comedian's joke crossed the line.

Case pits freedom of expression versus right to equality

Quebec comedian Mike Ward is boycotting a Quebec comedy awards gala after the company that's insuring the event censored some of his jokes in a sketch about freedom of speech. (Karine Dufour)

The case of Quebec comedian Mike Ward versus Jérémy Gabriel before the province's human rights tribunal has brought out supporters of freedom of expression but also has critics saying the comedian's joke crossed the line.

The family of Jérémy Gabriel filed a complaint in 2012 after Ward ridiculed the young man in his comedy show, Mike Ward s'eXpose. 

Gabriel, who is now 18, became known in Quebec when he was flown to Rome to sing for the Pope in 2006.

He has Treacher Collins syndrome, an illness that causes severe disfigurement.

In Ward's comedy bit, he said he at first humoured the attention Gabriel — or as he called him, Petit Jérémy — was getting. 

"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.

The topic was tackled on CBC Montreal's Radio Noon where a number of voices defended the comedian for his jokes, while others said Ward went too far.

Derek Seguin, Montreal comedian

If you look at the joke, it's not a mean, hateful thing, it's a joke.- Derek Seguin , comedian

"I'm afraid that this is even a thing, that it even made it to an official court of law," Seguin said.

"We're comedians, we tell jokes. If you look at the joke, it's not a mean, hateful thing, it's a joke."

Linda Gauthier, president of RAPLIQ limited mobility group

"I do agree with Jérémy Gabriel for filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. Mike Ward goes very, very far and this time, he goes over the limit," she said. 

"There's a word which is called respect. You can laugh at the action of a person, what a person does, but not laugh about a person with limitations. I think that freedom of expression this time went too far. There should be some limits to that. His liberty stops where Jeremy's starts. He crossed the line."

Michael Lifshitz, comedian born with musculoskeletal abnormalities

"Worst case scenario, you can call this joke insensitive or mean. I don't think it has any place whatsoever in a court of law," Lifshitz said.

"Hats off to Jeremy for reaching his goal of being a singer, I was very touched to hear his goal of showing that people with disabilities can do things like other people, that's actually my whole raison d'être.

But I think in fairness, Mike does do risqué humour. He was at the Nasty Show this summer, that's his style of comedy. Obviously it's not for everybody. If you are offended by it, simply don't go to his shows. But I think to take him to court is crossing the line."

Louis Philippe Lampron, Laval University law professor

"We are confronted here with two fundamental rights, which are freedom of expression and the right to equality, anti-discrimination measures. We have to know that the Quebec Human Rights commission has the right to convict a person for discriminatory insults expressed in public," he said.

We are confronted here with two fundamental rights: freedom of expression and the right to equality.- Louis Philippe  Lampron , law professor

"Here it was jokes against Jeremy Gabriel - very bad taste ones, but still jokes - in the context of a humour show.

Mike Ward will plead for his freedom of artistic expression. He is doing trash humour and we'll have to see if it's possible to be convicted for crossing the line of freedom of expression in that particular case."

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