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Saturday, April 03, 2010

The damage is done in the Guy Earle case

The real danger of the Human Rights Tribunal can be seen in its full inglorious splendour in the case of the comedian Guy Earle. This week Mr. Earle is being taken to pseudo-court because he insulted a couple of lesbians during a comedy show. I’ve been insulted at a comedy show; I didn’t know you can sue someone for that. But more to the point, you shouldn’t be able to sue someone for that.

This National Post article demonstrates why not:

Local comedians, including some lesbian wisecrackers, are calling the discrimination claim plain silly. They worry their freedoms to poke fun and mock have been put on trial. "It's a bad joke," says Ardell Fitzpatrick, a veteran comedian and lesbian owner of Laff Riot Girls, a Vancouver comedy troupe that describes itself as the city's "number one gay-friendly show."

"It's like I can't make fun of my own race anymore," says Patricia Louis, a First Nations comic who, with Ms. Fitzpatrick, watched this week's hearing. They both left the tribunal shaking their heads.

They should be worried about their freedoms to “poke fun,” or to put it more exactly, they should be worried about their freedom of expression.

The HRT has at best dubious jurisdictional authority over this case. The Supreme Court of BC has ordered them to review their jurisdiction, but they decided to deal with that later. Raising the question, why bother going through a trial if you don’t know if your verdict will have any legal standing?

The answer is that the trial itself is the punishment. It doesn’t really matter if Mr. Earle is fined or not, though I hope he isn’t. He has already had to pay plenty of legal fees and other costs to do with this case. He has already suffered.

Consider the position of a stand up comic who wants to make a lesbian joke. They may think that they could get away with it, but they would be worried that they will have to suffer the same process as Mr. Earle. Perhaps some of them will decide it isn’t worth it and make some other joke. We are now in a situation where comics are censoring themselves because they fear legal action.

Now ask yourself, do you want to live in a society where a comic can’t make a joke?

I sure as hell don’t.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on April 3, 2010 | Permalink

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