Editorial: Time to rein in human rights commissions

There are two things sure to draw the attention and repartee of a stand-up comedian: a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt sitting ring side and two women kissing in the front row, particularly two heckling and kissing women in the front row. Either scenario is likely to draw a rapid fire, profanity-laced response from the comedian whose job it is to berate those in the establishment to amuse those who have come to see the comedy show.

Comedy isn’t pretty as Steve Martin once said, but the rules are pretty clear going in for both performer and audience member. 1/ Night club comedy is not a library puppet show; it can be an intolerant and crude performance that rips open the belly of all that is crude and intolerant in the world. 2/ Don’t sit anywhere where the guy with the microphone can see you or else he’s likely to pick on you.

So far as I know, no fat man in a Hawaiian shirt has ever ran to the Human Rights Commission claiming discrimination and seeking damages for post traumatic distress disorder after being on the opposite side of a comedian’s microphone. But a lesbian did. A lesbian named Lorna Pardy. And she was awarded $22,500 by the BC Human Rights Commission last week – $15,000 from the comedian, the balance from the restaurant who hired him. And all because a comedian made homophobic and insulting comments to Pardy and her same-sex partner at a comedy show in response to their heckling his act.

The comedian, Guy Earle, tried to fight the tribunal on Charter of Rights and Freedoms grounds but the tribunal is not set up to hear charter claims. Even Earle’s lawyer walked out of the tribunal because it was a farce that denied his client’s rights to freedom of speech. The tribunal deemed the comedian hired by the restaurant needed to follow the same rules of conduct as other restaurant employees.

If a server, busboy or maître d’ unleashed a barrage of anti-lesbian remarks at the couple, we’d be first in line to say the couple had been wronged, but the cutting, insensitive and politically incorrect comments of a stand-up comedian cannot be held to the same degree of authenticity or sincerity as similar comments made in public by patrons or actual restaurant staff. And yet, the BC Human Rights Commission felt discrimination had occurred and that an offensive comedian had no right to offend.

Human rights commissions were established to prevent minority groups from being denied employment, rental accommodations or service in shops and restaurants, not so thin-skinned people can get a pay day for being insulted by a person whose job it is to insult patrons with no cow being sacred and no personal attribute being taboo. That includes race, religion, sexual orientation and – yes – fat guys in Hawaiian shirts.

If Pardy’s complaint was a one off, we’d consider it ridiculous, but Canadian human rights commissions are rife with bogus complaints from the easily offended and narcissistically entitled.

There is something wrong with a system that deems $78,000 as sufficient damages for a transgendered teacher being removed from employment but awards a third as much to an offended lesbian who had a bad night at the comedy club.
It’s time human rights commissions and their slow-as-molasses process of punishing those who dare to be politically incorrect were shut down and those resources used to bolster our real courts where those whose human rights have truly been trampled upon can get the justice they deserve in a more timely and efficient manner.

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7 Comments

  1. Sigh. Less than 300 words. Okay.
    Primary to the article is the assumption that there was an Act on. There wasn’t. No Act or Performance. By testimony from eye witnesses, who were staff, friends of “Bad Guy” Earle, other comics, etc.
    The 102 page report on the BC Human Rights Commission, Decision, is public record online. I suggest that the readers make a more informed decision, rather than be led on by an Article that appears to be either prejudiced or negligently ignorant as this one…in my opinion.
    If a Hockey Player leaves the ice to go after someone in the stands, follows them to the bathroom and takes their glasses off their head and breaks them, then starts to follow them down the street yelling at them–he isn’t playing Hockey. So the Ref penalized him. GOOD FOR LORNA.

  2. I do not believe that this judgement will help anyone, not the comic or the restaurant and nor the Canadian people who are going to be going to less and less interesting comedy shows after this ruling. I find it sad that as Canadians we are becoming very prone to running to a judge to solve all our life problems such as the tort filled U.S. justice system.

    Whether it is a fly in a bottle of water or a victim who felt “bad” at a comedy show, judges should show restraint in their rulings.

    how these cash grabs can be justified at any point is ridiculous, 22,000$?

    Im sure Lorna would have a long list of reasons why she NEEDS/ IS ENTITLED TOO the restautant’s money.

    I am in support of this article denouncing cash grabs in the name of human rights.

  3. How dare the author pontificate on a subject they obviously know nothing about….being picked on by comedian still has boundries. If the person were of colour and the n word were uttered no one would tolerate it!
    Lesbians do not need nor desire to be objects of ridicule just able to go out for an evening and be a couple like anyone else.

    Privilege is just another word prejudice…own your homophobic issues!!!!!

    • We’ll simply have to agree to disagree with the HRC decision and the facts as presented. My reading of the facts as presented in the decision document indicate the offensive comments were made from the stage in his capacity as MC.

      With respect to anything that happened with broken sunglasses or water thrown in the face, there are civil and criminal courts to hear those types of complaints. That is where such things should be heard and tried not human rights commissions.

      For those interested, the entire document can be found here.

  4. I repeat. This happened between sets/acts/shows, not during. Read the HRC Decision, get the facts. That the ladies were lesbians at all is an aside, he ripped into them with that diatribe due to a common peck on the cheek. The Free Speech schtick is only to cover for unadulterated abuse and thuggery, and as such only is being used as a form of deception/smoke and mirrors.
    Attempting to veil self-serving abuse/thuggery by citing Free Speech is the REAL threat to Free Speech, and that makes “Bad Guy” Earle its greatest nemesis…not the HRC, nor Lorna.

  5. I get where the author is coming across here. There is no homophobia here Molly – we don’t need to throw that term around at will!

    The juxtaposition of both issues is effective and I agree that one years salary to a trans-gendered teacher is a slap in the face when comparing the recent award to Lorna.

  6. This editorial starts off badly by misrepresenting the events that occurred that night that it’s hard to believe that the author has even read the HRC decision reports, as he claimed.

    Lorna Pardy did not heckle, as you (and Guy Earle) disingenously stated. A heckler initiates, Pardy merely responded. No professional comedian would consider someone who responds to being picked on a “heckler”. That would be whining. Guy Earle is the whiner here, and he has been able to parlay this situation into a “freedom of speech” issue, which it is not, as Mark pointed out.

    There are many things you can’t legally say, such as making threats (against the criminal code), making false statements (libel, slander) and discriminating, harrassing statements in service providing settings — such as a restaurant, which was the case for Pardy.

    This ruling will not affect comedy clubs or other settings where patrons are aware of what they are in for.

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