The CCF has intervened in favour of free expression in the Supreme Court of Canada appeal Ward v Quebec Human Rights Tribunal. The case involves a Quebec comedian, Mike Ward, who was fined by the Quebec Human Rights Commission. The Commission concluded that jokes made by Mike Ward about Jeremy Gabriel, a boy who lives with a disability, were discriminatory and violated the dignity of Mr Gabriel. Mike Ward was ordered to pay $42,000 to Mr Gabriel and his mother.

“This case is not about whether the jokes made by Mr. Ward were funny or if they were cruel. It is about whether or not this is a question that can be answered by the government. It is not. Empowering the government to censor comedy through heavy fines is an unacceptable curtailment of freedom of expression,” said CCF Litigation Director, Christine Van Geyn.  “We are intervening in this case to ensure that the court takes a full view of the right to freedom of expression, one of our most fundamental rights.”

The case was heard on February 15, 2020. We await the court’s decision. Allowing the Quebec government to set the limits on comedy through fines creates a chilling effect for other performers in the province and is an undue limit on the right to freedom of expression. Speech, even controversial or repugnant speech, is protected from unjustified state intrusion. And even if Mr. Ward’s comedy routine was distasteful, it should not be policed by the government. Like all comedy, it should be policed by audiences.

On Oct 29, 2021 the Supreme Court of Canada decided in favour of free expression. Importantly, the SCC adopted the CCF’s proposed test, finding that where there are competing rights under the Quebec Charter, these rights must be balanced with a proper regard for democratic values, especially the societal value of free expression. Read more about the decision here.

Image by Lisa Gansky and used under CC 2.0.

Free speech in comedy intervention (Ward v Quebec Human Rights Tribunal)

CCF Launch: January 5, 2021
Jurisdiction: Supreme Court of Canada
Status: Closed
Next Key Date: Awaiting decision

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