Canadian comedian Mike Ward has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help pay his legal costs after being fined for cracking a bad-taste joke against a disabled teenager.
Montreal's misleadingly named 'Human Rights' Tribunal ordered the comic to pay
Jérémy Gabriel $35,000 (£20,000) for the hurt caused, and another $7,000 (£4,000) to Gabriel's mother, Sylvie.
However, Ward has refused to pay, and plans to launch an appeal. He says his stance has pushed his legal costs up to $93,000
(£54,000) which he is now hoping to cover from his fans and supporters. Writing on GoFundMe, Ward said:
I told a joke. Was it in bad taste? Yes. Comedians should be allowed to tell jokes, even crass, hurtful ones. Hurt
feelings shouldn't dictate what a comedian can or can not do on stage.
I've already spent 93 thousand dollars to make sure I don't have to pay 42K... I'm either really bad at math or I take free speech pretty goddamn seriously.
The jokes that landed him in trouble were aimed at Gabriel, who was born with a skull deformity called Treacher Collins syndrome. He became well-known in Quebec after he was flown to Rome to sing for Pope Benedict in 2006. One gag in
Ward s'eXpose tour and 2012 special was about Gabriel getting so much attention over his condition but now, five years later, and he's still not dead! ... Me, I defended him, like an idiot, and he won't die!".
'Justice' Scott Hughes
found that the French-language routine went beyond the limits that a reasonable person must tolerate in the name of freedom of expression .
Ward will perform a show at the Edinburgh Fringe next week about his freedom of speech battles.
There's a debate in the Canadian province of Quebec over the future of free speech. The Quebec Parliament is currently debating whether to pass Bill 59, a bill that would grant the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) the authority to investigate
so-called hate speech , even without a complaint being filed.
The Head of the QHRC, Jacques Frémont has already openly said that he plans to use such powers:
"To sue those critical of certain ideas,
'people who would write against ... the Islamic religion ... on a website or on a Facebook page'"
The legality of the QHRC asserting jurisdiction over the entire Canadian Internet-using public is under debate, but the consensus
in Canada appears to be that this bill is a step backwards. In 2013, the Canadian parliament moved to end scrutiny of Internet speech by its Human Right Commissions when it abolished the infamous Section 13 , of Canada's Human Rights Act. The
elimination of the censorious clause followed a successful campaign given voice by Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant after the two were targeted for writings and publications which reportedly "offending" Muslims.
But like a zombie rising from
the grave, the idea of censoring "blasphemous" speech, continues to come back, no matter how dead it may have appeared.
A contentious section of Canadian human rights law, long criticized by free-speech advocates as overly restrictive and tantamount to censorship, is gone for good.
A private member's bill repealing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the
so-called hate speech provision, passed in the Senate this week. Its passage means the part of Canadian human rights law that permitted rights complaints to the federal Human Rights Commission for the communication of hate messages by telephone
or on the Internet will soon be history. The bill has received royal assent and will take effect after a one-year phase-in period.
An ecstatic Brian Storseth said his bill, which he says had wide support across ideological lines and
diverse religious groups, repeals a flawed piece of legislation and he called Canada's human rights tribunal a quasi-judicial, secretive body that takes away your natural rights as a Canadian.
Producing and disseminating hate speech
remains a crime in Canada, but regulating it will fall to the courts, not to human rights tribunals. Under the Criminal Code, spreading hate against identifiable groups can carry up to a two-year prison sentence.
A private members bill introduced into the Canadian House of Commons is seeking to delete the controversial hate speech provision in the Human Rights Act that has been used to silence Christians and conservatives who express politically incorrect
I've been working with colleagues to try to make sure that we make some changes to a piece of legislation that is flawed and --- quite frankly --- has been abused over the last several of years, said Conservative MP Brian Storseth
who introduced the bill.
Bill C-304 proposes to delete Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) to ensure that there is no infringement on freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It
received its first reading on September 30th, 2011.
Critics of section 13 have long argued that the clause creates the precise equivalent to a thought crime. The provision defines a discriminatory practice as any matter that is likely to
expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt if the person or persons affected are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.
This is really about freedom
of speech in our country and pushing back on the tyrannical bureaucracy need to censor speech in our country.
If we don't have freedom of speech, what good are the other freedoms that go along with it? What good is the freedom to
assemble or religious freedoms if you don't have the freedom of speech in the first place?
Storseth hopes that the bill will be debated at the beginning of November and that the first vote will take place at the end of that month.