The Supreme Court of Canada announced Thursday that it will hear comedian Mike Ward’s appeal of a 2019 ruling that he must pay $35,000 to a disabled child singer that he mocked for years in his stand-up comedy shows.
In 2016, Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Ward must pay Jérémy Gabriel damages for making jokes that violated his rights. Ward appealed the ruling, but last year, the Quebec’s Court of Appeal upheld the first decision.
Ward was ordered to pay $25,000 in moral damages and $10,000 in punitive damages to Gabriel. The tribunal also ordered Ward to pay damages to Gabriel’s mother, but the Court of Appeal overturned that part of the decision.
Gabriel, who is now 23, became well-known in Quebec after he was flown to Rome to sing for Pope Benedict in 2006.
He has Treacher Collins syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by craniofacial deformities.
In Ward’s performances between 2010 and 2013, he called Gabriel ugly and wondered why he hadn’t died five years after getting his wish to sing in front of the pope.
Gabriel, who has had more than 20 medical procedures to help him with his illness, told the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal that video circulating online of Ward’s stand-up led him to attempt suicide.
“I was 12 or 13 when I saw those videos,” Gabriel said in 2015. “I didn’t have maturity to be strong in the face of this — I lost confidence and hope. It made me think my life is worth less than another’s because I’m disabled.”
Gabriel and his family filed the complaint against Ward in 2012, when he was 15.
For his part, Ward has maintained that he didn’t think the jokes he made about Gabriel crossed the line.
He defended his “edgy” style of comedy and his lawyers have argued that his words fall under Canada’s freedom of expression rights.