A disabled former child singer from Quebec, Jérémy Gabriel, and his mother are suing comedian Mike Ward for more than $300,000 for Ward’s relentless teasing of Gabriel in his stand-up acts.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Quebec Superior Court alleges that Ward’s jokes had a “destructive effect” on Gabriel, who lives with a congenital facial defect called Treacher-Collins syndrome, and that to this day, the young man lives “constantly in fear”.
The lawsuit comes three months after the Supreme Court ruled that Ward did not violate the limits of freedom of expression guaranteed by Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms when he ridiculed Gabriel, at the high school days, on stage.
Gabriel filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission in 2012, and the commission ultimately ordered Ward to pay Gabriel and his family $42,000 in damages.
Ward challenged that order all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which overturned the decision on Oct. 29.
Lawsuit alleges the jokes made Gabriel ‘no longer want to exist’
From September 2010 to March 2013, Ward presented a live show called “Mike Ward eXposes”, in which he ridiculed the so-called sacred cows – people, according to Ward, don’t usually laugh because they are rich, influential or weak.
Ward described Gabriel on his live shows as “little Jeremy” and “the kid with the subwoofer on his head”, along with other similar jokes.
He also called Gabriel “ugly” and wondered why he hadn’t died five years after getting his wish to sing in front of the pope.
“These are personal attacks that are in no way justifiable in the context of a broadcast, nor can they constitute an honest expression of a reasonable opinion,” the lawsuit alleged.
“The defendant, knowingly, in bad faith, with malicious intent, attacked the plaintiff and sought to ridicule, humiliate and expose him to the hatred or contempt of his fans,” he continues.
The lawsuit said Gabriel withdrew from life and lost confidence and hope after the jokes.
“For two years, he no longer wanted to go out, no longer wanted to sing, no longer wanted to exist,” she says.
Gabriel alleges that he was made fun of at school, which made him so sad he had suicidal thoughts.
The lawsuit also alleges that Gabriel’s ratings, talent, and signing career suffered and continues to suffer to this day.
“He must constantly be on the lookout in everyday life, in public places, on the streets and on the bus. He constantly lives in fear,” the lawsuit said.
Jérémy Gabriel’s mother, Sylvie Gabriel, in a separate filing, alleged that Ward’s jokes had “destroyed everything she had built” for her son.
“She cried profusely. She suffers from insomnia, is impatient, has lost trust in people. She has been taking antidepressants since 2012,” Sylvie Gabriel’s lawsuit said.
Ward’s attorney says lawsuit ‘not viable’
Ward’s attorney, Julius Gray, told CBC in an interview Tuesday that he would file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit as soon as possible.
Gray said there was a one-year limit on filing libel suits in Quebec.
“It’s way too late for a libel action. Second, it’s not viable in law. It’s just an action that shouldn’t be tried,” Gray said.
Gray said the fact that the Supreme Court has already dismissed the moderate amount of compensation sought by Gabriel before the Human Rights Commission makes it unlikely that the Superior Court will want to hear a case seeking a larger amount.
“So what we’re going to try is to get it out this spring. It’ll probably take two to three months,” Gray said.
If you’re struggling or know someone who is, here’s where to get help: