The long-standing dispute between Quebec comedian Mike Ward, Quebec singer Jérémy Gabriel and the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse has reached the Supreme Court of Canada.
According to a statement, the Commission argued Monday that Ward "does not have the right to use humour as an excuse to make comments that denigrate, humiliate and ridicule Jeremy Gabriel based on his disability or the means to palliate his disability."
For the first time, conciliation between the right to equality and freedom of expression is raised.
Philippe-André Tessier, President of the Commission
In 2016, the Commission argued to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal that Ward "infringed the right" of Gabriel and his parents "to safeguard their dignity, honour and reputation, without discrimination based on handicap or civil status."
Gabriel, who was diagnosed with a condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, rose to prominence in Quebec after he sang the national anthem at a Montreal Canadiens game in 2005.
Since then, he has sung with Céline Dion and was a Patient Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals.
According to a court document, Ward described Gabriel at his show Mike Ward s’eXpose as one of the "sacred cows" of the Quebec artistic community, defined in the document as famous Quebecers "who cannot be laughed at because they are too rich or influential, who attract the public's sympathy, for good or bad reasons."
The document quotes a number of comments Ward made about Gabriel.
MTL Blog has reached out to Ward's lawyers for comment and will update this article when they respond.
Gabriel and his family filed a complaint with the Commission after Ward appeared in an interview in 2012.
The Commission argued that "Mr. Ward's jokes [made] Jeremy question his own self-worth," according to the document.
Ward's latest appeal argued that "as an artist in the public domain, [Gabriel] was as open to criticism and satire as the other 'sacred cows' and in fact was treated in the same way."
He has also "invoked both his artistic freedom" and "denied, from the start, the existence of discrimination."