Back in 2007, Toronto comedian Guy Earle was hosting an open mic night at Zesty’s, “a Vancouver restaurant with largely gay clientele.” Depending on whose account you believe, he either saw a lesbian couple in the front kissing, or they were heckling and ruining the show. In any case, it sparked a lesbian slur-themed meltdown involving a glass of water thrown in Earle’s face, and angry complaints to the restaurant owner the next day.
Now, the Supreme Court of British Columbia has upheld a $15,000 judgment from 2011 that Earle has to pay Lorna Purdy, the offended party, and a $7,000 judgement against the restaurant owner. It’ll probably come as no consolation, but Guy Earle has won my award for most Canadian name ever.
In April, 2011, tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams issued a detailed 102-page tribunal report that pored over diagrams of the restaurant, probed the origins of the weekly open mic night and even examined the Iraqi background of the bar’s owner (“[H]e was a member of both ethnic and Christian religious minority groups, and experienced discrimination himself,” it notes).
…the tribunal ruled that Mr. Earle’s attack had aggravated Ms. Pardy’s “pre-existing condition of generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks, and caused her PTSD.” Long after the episode, for instance, Ms. Pardy said that simply hearing Mr. Earle recount the evening in a radio interview caused her to miss work.
When asked why she did not simply leave the establishment, instead of staying until the very end of the performance, “she said she didn’t leave because she was too shocked, and that she literally could not get up from the booth,” according to decision documents. As for the water-throwing, “Mr. Earle’s conduct had put Ms. Pardy in a condition where she was unable to immediately formulate a measured, or even rational, response.”
I’m just glad her crippling anxiety hasn’t kept her from being able to talk to lawyers.
In addition to Mr. Earle’s $15,000 penalty, the restaurant was also ordered to pay $7,000 to Ms. Pardy on the grounds that since the owner had given Mr. Earle a small bar tab to host the event, the comedian was legally an employee. Restaurant owner Salam Ismail had already spent at least $13,000 in legal fees defending himself before the tribunal.
Here’s an account of what Earle actually said:
According to the later findings of the Human Rights Tribunal, during the show Ms. Pardy’s girlfriend had merely pecked her on the cheek when Mr. Earle told the crowd “Don’t mind that inconsiderate dyke table over there. You know lesbians are always ruining it for everybody.”
The line prompted boos from Ms. Pardy’s table and kicked off an escalating string of slurs and lesbian-themed quips, climaxing with a pair of off-stage confrontations in which Ms. Pardy threw two glasses of water at the comedian and he, in turn, broke her sunglasses.
As Mr. Earle told it, however, the couple was passionately kissing in the front row and repeatedly interrupting the set with obscenities when Mr. Earle tried to “shut up” the table with the quip “you’re not even lesbians; no guy will f*** you, that’s why you’re with each other” — thus kicking off the ugly escalation. [NationalPost]
“Do you have a strap-on? You can take your girlfriend home and f— her in the a–.”
“You’re a fat ugly c—. No man will f— you; that’s why you’re a dyke. You fat c—.”
“Somebody shut her up. Put a c— in her mouth and shut her the f— up.” [VancouverSun]
Yeah, I’m going to have to say that he went too far there. Me, I would’ve gone with “This Lorna here, she doesn’t seem like a Pardy to me, am I right, guys?”
As for this week’s ruling…
On Wednesday, B.C. highest court ruled against Mr. Earle’s assertion that comedy clubs should remain special places devoted to the “fearless pursuit of free speech” and that the Tribunal’s decision would have a “chilling effect on performances and artists in British Columbia.”
Rather, ruled Justice Jon Sigurdson, while comedy clubs may swirl with “offensive, irreverent and inappropriate” language they are not operating in “zones of absolute immunity from human rights legislation.” [NP]
The guy (the Guy, specifically) was obviously lashing out against a perceived slight and trying to say the worst thing possible, so perhaps we can empathize in some small way (like, reeeeally small), but I’m otherwise fine with assuming he’s an asshole, and generally ostracizing him. Still, we can all agree that you don’t deserve a cash prize for getting called a name, right? I know we want to do everything we can to stop hate crimes and bullying and other crimes of discrimination, but most of the time, the symptoms of hate that cross the line between being a dick and committing a crime already have names, like “assault.” I have a hard time seeing how a person, and multiple people in the legal profession, no less, can think one stranger saying something shitty to another requires legal intervention. Especially from the Middle Eastern restaurant owner.
But if anyone was going to criminalize impoliteness, I’m not surprised it was Canada.