This may be the 21st century, but news can still travel slowly from the American Colonies to Britain.
The So It Goes blog’s Vancouver-based correspondent Anna Smith has drawn my attention to something which started back in 2007.
It happened when English-born comedian Guy Earle was hosting an Open Mic comedy evening at Zesty’s club in a restaurant in Vancouver. He felt that a lady called Lorna Pardy and a group of friends were disrupting his show. He responded, according to Canada’s gay and lesbian news magazine Xtra!, “by letting loose with what he no doubt considered to be some clever putdowns on the topic of their apparent lesbianism.”
And ended up in court.
Lorna Pardy said she was in the process of placing a drinks order with two waitresses when her girlfriend kissed her on the cheek and that Earle then said: “Don’t mind the inconsiderate dyke table that just walked in.”
She claimed she did not know a comedy show was going on and denied Earle’s claim that the table was heckling him, saying: “It’s just not the way I conduct myself in public”.
According to Earle’s version of events: “These two lovely guests came in from the patio and sat right in front of the stage and started making out, like tongue and tonsil wrestling. I didn’t care if it was two guys, two girls, a horse and buggy, you know? Whatever. I don’t hate anyone based on their sexual orientation or whatever. But I do hate hecklers, and sometimes I get a little vehement.”
He claimed the women ignored his “request” to be quiet and told him Fuck you asshole! and Shut up! He said they insinuated he had singled them out for being lesbians: “So then I broke into it. I said You’re fat and ugly. You’re not even lesbian. No guy will fuck ya! That’s why you’re with each other. Somebody put a cunt in her mouth and shut her the fuck up. Which one of you wears the strap-on dildo? Because silicone cunt crazy is still cunt crazy in my book.”
He said people then started booing him and walking out. When he walked by Ms Pardy’s table and stopped to look at her, she threw a glass of water in his face.
Another comic then performed on stage after which, as MC, Earle went back to the microphone and briefly closed the evening. Lorna Pardy’s version is that, when he returned to the stage, he “continued to mock and humiliate” her.
Earle – clearly not a wise man at this point – says he then walked by Ms Pardy’s table again, at which point she allegedly threw more water at him. He reportedly claimed she “got up and faced him, puffing her chest out.”
‘I lost it for two seconds,” Earle admitted afterwards. “This is the part that I publicly apologize for.”
He snatched her sunglasses off her head and broke them in half, he admitted, “like a little baby dumb.”
In court, Lorna Pardy’s lawyer’s version of this was: “When Ms Pardy later went to the washroom to compose herself, Mr. Earle cornered her on her return, continuing to physically intimidate and verbally abuse her. He grabbed and broke her sunglasses, and dropped them to the floor at her feet.”
Ms Pardy works as an airport weather technician and said she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress as a result of the evening. She complained to British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal. Her lawyers invoked Section 8 of British Columbia’s Human Rights Code, which forbids anyone to “discriminate against a person or class of persons regarding any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public.”
Earle was quoted as saying: “They pissed me off so I said some rude things. Does that mean I should go to court? If you’re an asshole, should you be arrested?”
He could not afford the airfare to attend the court and the presiding judge ruled he could not participate by any electronic means. Earle’s lawyer sought a Supreme Court ruling that the tribunal had no authority to rule on the case and the Supreme Court directed that the tribunal should not proceed “until the jurisdictional issue had been resolved”. But the tribunal went ahead anyway.
In May 2011, it ruled in favour of Lorna Pardy, awarded her $15,000 to be paid by Earle for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” and $7,500 to be paid by Zesty’s club owner Salam Ishmail. It also reportedly banned Earle from performing in British Columbia.
Tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams said Earle repeated vulgar language in public and attacked Pardy’s “identity and dignity as a woman and a lesbian”. Earle’s lawyer argued that his client’s speech should be protected under “freedom of expression”.
The court ruling was:
“Mr Earle submitted that it was his job to engage disruptive patrons to quiet them. However, the Tribunal found no evidence of any rational connection between this and attacking a patron’s sex or sexual orientation on or off the stage… There were measures available to accomplish the purpose of ending any disruption of the show well short of attacking Ms Pardy’s sex and sexual orientation.
“None of the witnesses testified that Mr. Earle was telling ‘jokes’ and there was no evidence that he was using comedy to expose the stereotypes of others.
‘The discrimination had a significant physical and psychological effect on Ms Pardy, which was supported by unchallenged medical evidence. This was aggravated and prolonged by public statements made by Mr. Earle about her, which falsely portrayed her as a drunken heckler and instigator.”
Guy Earle’s reaction was: “I’m shaking over here… What a bloody joke. $15,000 for being misquoted and I NEVER thought I would have to correct/defend my words in a free country!”
In July this year, Earle’s lawyer brought the case back to British Columbia’s Supreme Court for “judicial review” on the basis (among other things) that Earle had been accused of breaking Section 8 of the Human Rights Code, which forbids anyone to “discriminate against a person or class of persons regarding any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public,” but that a comedian’s performance is not the “provision of a service” but an artistic expression.
There has been no decision yet.
(Guy Earle contacted me and corrected some mis-quotes in this blog HERE.)