Comedian Guy Earle has never been one to pull his punches. In fact, invective and innuendo is almost indispensable to a comic’s repertoire. It is especially necessary for the inevitable moment when the comic must “put down a heckler”. Vancouver
But one evening, at Zesty’s Restaurant in , he put down the wrong heckler, a lesbian by the name of Lorna Pardy. She launched a human rights complaint, and has recently won an order of $15,000 from Earle and another $7000 from the restaurant.
The details of what exactly happened on the night that Ms. Pardy claimed to have been so traumatized are murky. Yet I hesitate to give the readers even a brief summary of the events, for fear of retribution by the Tribunal. Why? Earle had posted a YouTube video of his side of the story prior to the hearing, and was slapped by the Tribunal for “publicly [making] false and inflammatory statements about Ms. Pardy’s conduct”. Who decided that the statements were false and inflammatory? A judge?
No, this all-knowing seer is Murray Geiger-Adams, a labour lawyer who works for the BC Teachers’ Federation, which strongly supports the type of activism we are seeing at the Tribunals. Recall that Earle’s well-respected lawyer, James Millar, walked out of a preliminary hearing when Geiger-Adams refused to consider whether he had jurisdiction. Millar then filed an application in BC Supreme Court to find the Tribunal in contempt.
Geiger-Adams has authored a string of decisions that have drastically expanded the definitions of the Code, always for the benefit of complainants. Only weeks ago, he sent the legal profession into a quandary by redefining “employee” to include law partners. In the Earle case, the definition of “employee” was also expanded to include volunteer stand-up comics. After all, if Earle wasn’t an employee, the Code provisions on the delivery of service, under which Ms. Pardy based her complaint, wouldn’t apply. Under Mr. Geiger-Adams’ new definition of employment, I would be an employee of a musical instrument retailer if I sat down and plunked away at a piano with permission from the owner.
This redefinition is based on a common understanding among all of Canada’s Human Rights Tribunals:
1) Definitions should be interpreted as broadly as possible when establishing that discrimination has taken place, and
2) Defenses for discrimination (like fundamental Charter rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion) should be interpreted as narrowly as possible.
Our fundamental freedoms are being eroded at an alarming pace by these Human Rights institutions. The framework is in place to ensure that this erosion continues, whether it is by gradually expanding precedents like this one, or the built-in mechanisms of Human Rights Codes that justify an ever-expanding scope. This is why tinkering around the edges is not going to solve the problem.