Mike Ward v. Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
(Quebec) (Civil) (By Leave)
Human rights - Right to equality, Right to dignity - Human rights - Right to equality - Right to dignity - Right to freedom of expression - Young person with handicap among public figures who were subject of jokes in comedy routine - Human Rights Tribunal finding that comments were discriminatory and were not justifiable on basis of freedom of expression - Tribunal awarding damages for moral injury and punitive damages to complainant and complainant’s mother - Court of Appeal upholding finding of discrimination but quashing order awarding damages to complainant’s mother - Whether political or artistic speech mentioning or mocking personal characteristics amounts to discrimination, thereby giving Human Rights Tribunal jurisdiction to grant redress - Whether appellant’s comedy routine is justified as free speech under Quebec’s Charter of human rights and freedoms - Whether freedom of expression provides same protection to artistic expression as it does to political expression - Whether punitive damages could be awarded in this case - Charter of human rights and freedoms, CQLR, c. C-12, ss. 3, 4, 10.
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As part of a stand-up routine, comedian Mike Ward used dark humour to “deflate” what he called the “sacred cows” of Quebec’s artistic milieu in reference to a number of prominent public figures. One of his subjects was Jérémy Gabriel, a young man with Treacher Collins Syndrome who had become famous by singing for well-known public figures. In his routine, Mr. Ward made a number of comments relating to physical characteristics of Mr. Gabriel caused by his handicap. Mr Gabriel and his parents filed a complaint of discrimination with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (the “Commission”). The Commission submitted an application to the Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”). The Tribunal concluded that Mr. Ward’s comments were discriminatory under Quebec’s Charter of human rights and freedoms. It held that the comments violated Mr. Gabriel’s right to dignity and that the violation was not justified by Mr. Ward’s right to freedom of expression. The Tribunal awarded damages for moral injury and punitive damages to Mr. Gabriel and to his mother. The majority of the Court of Appeal allowed Mr. Ward’s appeal in part. It held that in balancing Mr. Gabriel’s right to dignity with Mr. Ward’s right to freedom of expression, the Tribunal was reasonable in concluding that Mr. Ward’s comments surpassed what could reasonably be tolerated by Mr. Gabriel. However, it quashed the order awarding damages to Mr. Gabriel’s mother, finding that she was not subjected to discrimination. A dissenting judge would have allowed the appeal in full. She did not agree that the Tribunal’s conclusion that the comments were discriminatory was reasonable.
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