Quebec Judge Dismisses Defamation Suit Against Comedian Mike Ward Regarding Joke

Quebec Judge Dismisses Defamation Suit Against Comedian Mike Ward Regarding Joke
Comedian Mike Ward speaks to the media at the Quebec Court of Appeal in Montreal on Jan. 16, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz)
The Canadian Press

A Quebec comedian who won a high-profile Supreme Court of Canada human rights case last year has logged another legal victory against one of his accusers.

A Quebec court judge has dismissed a defamation suit against comedian Mike Ward in connection with a joke he made between 2010 and 2013 about Jeremy Gabriel, who at the time was a well-known teenage singer with a disability.

Gabriel’s mother, Sylvie Gabriel, was seeking $84,600 from Ward, arguing the joke he made at her son’s expense caused her significant harm.

Judge Manon Gaudreault dismissed the suit, writing that the one-year time period to file a defamation claim had passed—even when taking into account the time the case had spent in other courts.

However, Gaudreault’s May 30 decision rejected Ward’s claim that Sylvie Gabriel’s lawsuit was abusive and an excessive use of the legal system.

The decision is the latest step in a long legal saga between the Gabriel family and Ward, which culminated in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last fall stating that Ward’s comments did not amount to discrimination under Quebec’s rights charter.

Jeremy Gabriel has Treacher Collins syndrome, a congenital condition characterized by deformities of the skull and face. When Ward had delivered his comedy routine mocking Jeremy Gabriel, the teenager was a well-known singer who had appeared alongside Celine Dion and the Pope.

In 2016, Quebec’s human rights tribunal ordered Ward to pay $35,000 in damages to Gabriel and $7,000 to his mother based on the remarks, which included a joke about drowning the singer. But that case went to the Supreme Court, pitting artistic expression, in the form of dark comedy, against the protection of one’s dignity.

In a 5-4 decision last October, the country’s highest court concluded that the elements of a discrimination claim under the Quebec charter had not been established in the case. The court also said the singer and his mother chose the wrong court—the human rights tribunal—for their case.

Jeremy Gabriel has also filed a separate $288,000 legal action against Ward in Quebec Superior Court.

Ward’s lawyer, Julius Grey, says he will seek to have that suit dismissed at a June 29 hearing.