Ward v Gabriel case | Sigh of relief in the midst of humor

The humor industry feared with the Mike Ward affair that artists would “censor themselves” and that a “court of good jokes” would limit artistic freedom. It is therefore with satisfaction that we welcome the decision of the Supreme Court rendered Friday in favor of the comedian in his dispute against Jérémy Gabriel.

Marissa Groguhe

Marissa Groguhe

To read: “A great day” for Mike Ward To read: “Very disappointed”, Jérémy Gabriel is ready to turn the page

The Supreme Court of Canada, ruling in favor of Mike Ward, has issued a ruling that alleviates the fears of the humor community. “This is great news,” said Patrick Rozon, vice-president for francophone content at Juste pour rire, at the end of the line. ” [Un jugement contre Mike Ward] would have created a culture of fear, he believes. It would have affected freedom of expression and many producers or artists would not have dared to go to certain areas. We would have arrived at self-censorship on the part of comedians. ”

The Association of Professionals in the Comedy Industry is “satisfied with the decision,” says Me Walid Hijazi, who represented her at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in her interventions for Camp Ward. We were also worried about the “reluctance” that would gain the community if a comedian was sanctioned “for a joke in the context of his work”.

Indignant without censorship

It is well stated in the verdict of the highest court in the land that questions of good taste or the “emotional harm” caused by jokes do not weigh in the legal debate between freedom of expression and the right to dignity.

“It is a democratic right for the public to be offended,” said Patrick Rozon after the judgment was handed down. “Is there a right to sue each time that is the case?” ”

Louise Richer, founding director general of the National School of Humor (ENH), also recalls in an interview with Press the distinction between “right to indignation” and will to “muzzle”, when it comes to humor. “Everyone has their own filters and their own sensitivity. We don’t tell people not to react, she said. But you have to live with a kind of elasticity of acceptability, otherwise you fall into muzzling, and you don’t want that either. My fear is that this will get confused and eventually lead to something like a court of good jokes. Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision puts a stop to this trend, she notes.

Mike Ward is unwilling to comment on the verdict to the media, but he posted on social media Friday afternoon a nearly seven-minute video covering the whole case. On Twitter, he shared a 2016 post by Norm Macdonald in which the recently deceased comedian was up for him. “We did it Norm, we won,” Ward wrote shortly after the judgment was released in his favor. “The humor won today,” meanwhile tweeted Sugar Sammy, who was not available for an interview Friday. Several comedians approached by Press, whose Mike Ward sidekick Guy Nantel declined an invitation to comment on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Friday.

The humor already marked out

“I don’t think there is any reason to adopt a triumphant speech, because these are sensitive things, but it is a relief”, affirms Louise Richer. The impact of the reverse ruling on freedom of expression would have “a sword of Damocles on creation,” she believes.

This does not mean that the judgment “ratifies non-accountability or immunity” for the profession of comedian, wishes to specify Mme Richer. The practice of humor is already marked out, more and more even, she points out. “The limit of acceptability changes over time. Things that were done previously could no longer be done today and that testifies to self-regulation in society, says Louise Richer. Comedians are not on another planet where anything is possible. ”

All artistic fields do so and constantly reassess the limits of their freedoms, but creation also comes with its “shadow aspects, its provocative aspects” that must be accepted, estimates the director of the ENH. “It has always been a color of humor,” she says.

A lesson ”

Mike Ward uses corrosive humor and his audience knows it. “People in the room are not offended, because they like this kind of humor,” says Patrick Rozon. But the comedy artists will have learned their lesson and will put their jokes in context. You have to be careful, with social networks, for example, when you take a half-gag or an extract and put it online. There is a portion of education that is done with this judgment. ”

Mira Farladeau, author of the book Humor and freedom of expression, believes that Friday’s verdict “gives its letters back to humorous language”. For her, the distinction between the comic world and the real world is imperative. The issue of context, which the Supreme Court emphasized to justify its judgment, is essential. “In humor, we are in the symbol, in another dimension,” she says.

“It was about a public figure, which comes with the risk of being laughed at,” adds Mme Falardeau. When we laugh at a public figure, we laugh at ourselves too. It’s part of the health of a society. […] Comedians will be relieved to have the freedom to entertain freely, when there is so much heaviness everywhere. ”

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