Monday, April 25, 2011

Speech Police Order Comic who Insulted Lesbian to Pay $15,000, and Ban him for Life from Performing "Similar Acts" in BC

Photo: Lorna Pardy at BC Human Rights Tribunal

In March 2010, I sat through a four day hearing at the BC Human Rights Tribunal of a complaint by a lesbian that she had suffered discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation by a comic in Zesty's restaurant on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. (See coverage "Ugly Dyke" and "Dildo" Insults by Comic Leave Lesbian Attempting to Replace Human Right to Free Speech with Bogus  Human Right Not to be Offended.)  Last week, the BCHRT awarded Laura Pardy $22,500 in damages: the comic, Guy Earle, was ordered to pay her $15,000 and Sam Ismail, the owner of Zesty's, was ordered to pay her $7,500.

I haven't had a chance to read the judgment but I listened to Ezra Lavant interview Earle on Sun television.  Lavant, who is a lawyer as well as a television talk show host, said the judgement effectively subjects Earle to a lifetime ban on performing in British Columbia by prohibiting him from committing "similar acts".  Earle's stand-up comedy act is not dissimilar to the comments he hurled at the lesbians; one young comic from Zesty's testified that Earle's style is to shock people.  Earle has repeatedly defended himself by pointing out that customers were forewarned that they could be offended by what they heard; he had posted a sign on the door of Zesty's that night announcing, "Triple X, the Edgiest Show in Town."

Earle says the insults he hurled at the lesbians from the stage in his role as MC of a weekly amateur comedy night at Zesty's, were simply an attempt to silence their heckling.  He admits he drank too much that night.  Pardy, a meteorological technician at YVR, says she had been drinking beer but was not drunk.  Witnesses had vastly differing accounts of how much heckling had gone on.  My sense from listening to the witnesses at the hearing was that there were insults going back and forth between Earle and at least some of the women at Pardy's table.

Zesty's was known as a lesbian-friendly establishment.  A lesbian group performed there weekly. So  it appeared that this was an isolated case of insults erupting late at night, when the owner wasn't around.

The coverage of the case has at times been comical.  Levant pointed out that in the judgement, it was noted that hecklers had accused Earle of having a "small dick."  Levant told Earle that if this accusation was true, he could lay a human rights complaint against the women for discrimination "based on disability".

The government used tax dollars to pay for two BCHRT lawyers and other staff to hold a four day hearing and produce a 100 page report in their role as the speech police.  The accused got no financial assistance.  Ismail said at the hearing that his business had gone downhill after the BCHRT complaint.  

Earle's lawyer argued on the first day of the hearing that the BCHRT did not have jurisdiction in this case, that Earle's right to freedom of artistic expression, even offensive expression, is guaranteed by the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Pardy's lawyer has taken the position that Earle was not actually engaged in an artistic performance at the time he insulted Pardy.

Earle says he won't pay the award to Pardy and will be taking the case to the Supreme Court.  That's exactly what critics of the BCHRT want to see happen, in the hopes of putting an end to their role as censors. The BCHRT have previously attempted to punish McLeans magazine for an article they published by writer Mark Steyn, an article about how rapidly growing Muslim populations can be expected to alter western democracies (in a way that will be less welcoming to Lorna Pardy and her galpals than Zesty's.)

The problem with going to the Supreme Court is that Earle has no money and "a family to support."  This case has over the past four years made him almost unemployable as a comic, as owners of establishments are afraid that if they hire him, the gay and lesbian community will organize a boycott of their businesses.  "I haven't had a pot to pee in for the last four years and I'm scrapin' it", Earle says.  He says he hates to ask for donations for the legal case but if you wish to help him, you can donate at his site  And if you wish to help Sam Ismail, stop by Zawa's -- he renamed Zesty's after the human rights complaint -- for a beer and a burger.