Vancouver
2 min

Zesty’s ruling oversimplifies

I wonder what was going through Guy Earle’s head right before the lesbians walked into Zesty’s on May 22, 2007?

Was he looking around the nearly empty room, wondering where everybody was? Was he asking himself if he should stick to his day job? Maybe he didn’t give them much conscious thought at all. Maybe he just saw them kissing and lashed out.

“Don’t mind that inconsiderate dyke table over there,” he said. “You know lesbians are always ruining it for everybody.”

Some accounts suggest Lorna Pardy and her friends engaged, heckling Earle and telling him to go fuck himself. I don’t blame them.

In fact, I don’t blame anyone here in a Human Rights Tribunal sort of way.

There’s no doubt Earle behaved badly that night. Suggesting someone stick a cock in a lesbian’s mouth to shut her up is offensive.

But do we really want a tribunal to judge how far comedians can go? Do we really want performers to tone down their jokes so nothing they say ever hurts anyone’s feelings? We might as well just put Care Bears onstage.

BC’s Human Rights Tribunal might feel more comfortable in a Care Bear world. Free expression has value but a person’s dignity has more value, Murray Geiger-Adams decided April 20. Earle’s brhaviour was inconsistent with  promoting “a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights,” he ruled.

To me, a climate of mutual respect means a society where lesbians like Pardy don’t lose their homes, jobs, education or access to services just because they’re different. But that wasn’t the case here. In its determination to defend the vulnerable party, the tribunal oversimplified an important question and dismissed any hints of complexity or even wrongdoing on the lesbian’s part.

Here’s what I think really happened that night: an offensive, talentless comedian tried to salvage his lacklustre show by lashing out at the obnoxious table that had the audacity to ignore him while he was onstage. He targeted them and their sexuality. They, understandably, gave it right back to him. A heated exchange ensued. Whatever was left of the comedy show unravelled.

At the next break, the angry comedian approached his opponents. Pardy threw a glass of water in his face. Earle walked away swearing. For some reason, both parties decided to repeat this unsavoury exchange a second time. The evening culminated with Earle ripping the sunglasses off Pardy’s head and breaking them.

The restaurant’s owners say this was a case of two adults behaving immaturely.

The tribunal says Pardy is blameless and Earle violated her rights.

“He employed, and repeated, publicly, the most extreme terms… to directly attack her identity and dignity as a woman and a lesbian,” Geiger-Adams ruled, adding: “In Ms Pardy’s poignant words, ‘All of our power was taken from each of us in front of each other.’”

That’s the problem right there. In a world where insults from a stupid comedian can take away all your power — and a tribunal agrees and tries to restore it by punishing the one who “took it” — insults are king and people are too fragile.

Rather than limiting someone’s free speech, why not reduce its power to ruin your life? Find your own power and nurture it. And leave the tribunal to the genuinely vulnerable people who are still losing jobs, homes and opportunities because they’re different.