Can Quebec take a joke? Comedy and human rights clash in court

“If I don’t have a lawsuit against me now, it’s not for a lack of trying,” Quebecois comedian Mike Ward joked in front of a Montreal audience in 2009. Fast forward to 2016.

On July 20, Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) ordered comedian Mike Ward to pay a combined total of $42,000 in moral and punitive damages to Jeremy Gabriel and his mother for jokes he made about them during his three-year comedy tour. The tribunal found that the jokes infringed on the plaintiffs’ human rights.

Ward’s lawyer has begun the appeals process and maintains that the tribunal misinterpreted important cases, going beyond the intended goals of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The ruling received widespread news coverage, with parties on both sides of the debate weighing in on the controversy about political correctness and comedy, the right to offend and the right to free expression. Many critics fear the HRT decision may set an unwanted precedent for Quebec comedians, while others argue the ruling is a just repercussion for jokes that discriminated against Gabriel because of his disability.

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Cyber safety laws bullied into submission

Court ruling calls law inspired by the Rehtaeh Parsons suicide a “colossal failure,” raising new questions about policing online conduct

Cyberbullies returned to their keyboard crusades with a vengeance just days after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court struck down the province’s anti-cyberbullying law back in December, raising questions as to what extent the legal system should deal with cyberbullying, if at all.

Passed after the death of teen cyberbullying victim Rehtaeh Parsons, the 2013 Cyber-safety Act allowed judges to issue protection orders against online bullies and established CyberSCAN, an investigative unit working under the aegis of the province’s Department of Justice. The act offered a civil law option to handle cyberbullying.

In the wake of the Nova Scotia decision, and recent Ontario court rulings, the federal government is calling for proposals to evaluate cyberbullying – and possible intervention methods – across the country.

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