Canada's top court is being asked to decide whether mocking a disabled child should be considered legally protected freedom of expression. French-Canadian comedian Mike Ward is appealing a 2016 order from the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to pay $28,000 to Jeremy Gabriel, who has the rare genetic condition Treacher Collins syndrome, which causes hearing problems and facial deformities, the Montreal Gazette reports. As a child, he sang for Pope Benedict XVI and Celine Dion. In 2010, when Gabriel was 13, Ward mocked the boy's singing ability and said he thought he was fatally ill and was disappointed to find out he was only "ugly." Ward joked that he tried to drown Gabriel after finding out he wasn't going to die.
The Gabriel jokes were part of Ward's act until 2013. Gabriel said he became suicidal after the jokes led to persistent bullying at school. The human rights tribunal ruled that the comments were discriminatory. After an appeals court upheld the moral and punitive damages in 2019, Ward vowed to take the case to Canada's Supreme Court, saying that as a public figure, Gabriel was a fair target, and it "shouldn't be up to a judge to decide what constitutes a joke on stage," the BBC reports. "Mocking doesn't deprive someone of a service or a right," Ward attorney Julius Gray told the court Monday, per CTV. (Read more comedian stories.)