Canadian court fines comedian $35K for joke about disabled boy

Canadian court fines comedian $35K for joke about disabled boy

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The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled this week that comedian Mike Ward must pay $35,000 for telling a joke about a disabled boy in materials he used from 2010 to 2013.

In detail: The boy's name is Jeremy Gabriel and he suffers from a genetic disorder, called Treacher Collins syndrome, which results in facial deformities and affects his hearing. Ward joked about Gabriel's 2005 signing to Pope Benedict and Celine Dion, calling him a bad singer who's “terminally ill," despite the fact that his condition does not affect his life span.

In 2016, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal instructed Ward to pay $42,000 to the boy and the mother, but the Court of Appeal overturned that part of the ruling, bringing his fine down to $35,000. The court agreed Ward's comments were unacceptable even in a society that values freedom of speech.

"Humor, especially the kind of humor that Mr. Ward practices, can appeal to sarcasm, mockery, and even insult. The border between a limitation to freedom of expression in the name of dignity and censorship is thin. Comedians must realize, however, that artistic freedom is not absolute and that they, like all citizens, are responsible for the consequences of their words when they cross certain limits," the court said.

Ward's response: “Comedy is not a crime. In a ‘free’ country, it shouldn’t be up to a judge to decide what constitutes a joke on stage. The people in attendance laughing already answered that question," he said in a statement Thursday.

He said he won't pay the fine and will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. “I’m telling you right now, I [sic] rather go to prison than pay even one-tenth of this stupid fine.”

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