By Western Standard

November 1, 2021

-Western Standard


Four judges on the Supreme Court of Canada say obnoxious jokes aren’t protected by freedom of speech laws.

But the majority five judges ruled they are — in the case of a stand-up comedian mocking a deaf child, said Blacklock’s Reporter.

The judgment comes ahead of the cabinet’s reintroduction of a bill that would threaten bloggers and Facebook users with $70,000 fines for hurtful online comments.

“Expression in the nature of rude remarks made by individuals does not in itself constitute discrimination,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote in a majority decision in Ward v. Québec.

The point of protecting free speech was to “ensure everyone can manifest their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, indeed all expressions of the heart and mind, however unpopular, distasteful or contrary to the mainstream,” wrote Wagner.

The ruling came in the case of Mike Ward, a Québec comic fined $35,000 by a provincial Human Rights Tribunal for snide remarks about a local celebrity. Ward had insulted Jérémy Gabriel, a deaf boy who achieved fame with his singing voice and once performed for the Pope.

“He sang for the Pope,” Ward said in a stand-up routine.

“People said, ‘He’s really bad, he’s off key, he sings badly.’ I defended him. I said, ‘He’s dying, let him live out his dream. He’s living out a dream. His dream was to sing off-key in front of the Pope.’”

Ward insulted the boy as the “ugly singing kid” and said he “won’t be able to make records anymore” once he turned 40.

The boy’s family filed a successful human rights claim for damages based on discrimination.

Wagner wrote there was no question the comedy routine was hurtful.

“There is certainly nothing uplifting in the fact that a popular, well-known comedian used his platform to make fun of a young man with a disability,” wrote Wagner.

“Be that as it may, the question here is not whether Mr. Ward’s comments were in good or bad taste.”

Wagner cited legal scholars in writing a “person’s right to freedom of expression is protected not in order to protect him, but in order to protect a public good, a benefit which respect for the right of free expression brings to all those who live in the society in which it is respected, even those who have no personal interest in their own freedom.”