THE ADVOCATE 13
VOL. 80 PART 1 JANUARY 2022
So what should happen if someone is offended and the law is not going to
come to the rescue? Some people who watched A Fish Called Wanda were
offended by the character, Ken, played by Michael Palin because he had a
speech impediment (something called a “stutter” in Canada and a “stammer”
in the U.K.). The stutter was sometimes played for laughs, and Ken
was ridiculed and tormented for his affliction by one of the other characters.
This abuse ultimately led to the scene where Ken ends up having chips
being stuffed up his nose. While many found it hilarious, some found it
Turn then to the actor who played the beleaguered character. Michael
Palin based Ken, in part, on his father, who suffered from the condition and
remained too angry and ashamed to address it throughout his life. After the
enormous success of A Fish Called Wanda, Palin was approached by a businessman
and a medical professional who sought to turn the popularity of
the character into something to benefit the community he represented. In
1993, they founded the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering, which for
close to three decades has conducted research, provided assessments and
treatments for children and adults, and become a leading training facility
for speech and language therapists. The centre provides its services for free
through the National Health Service. One wonders if Mike Ward (who by no
means is in the same class of comedian as Michael Palin) would have the
guts to do something similar for anyone like Jérémy Gabriel who suffers
from Treacher Collins syndrome. Ward might have the right to freely
express offensive comments about Gabriel, but he could also use the outcome
of his Supreme Court of Canada case to “take a sad song and make it
better”. But that is a moral obligation, not a legal one.
1. A Fish Called Wanda grossed $177 million at the
box office, was nominated for three Academy
Awards and is listed by the British Film Institute as the
39th greatest British film of the 20th century. It
starred John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline,
Sir Michael Palin and a fish, called Wanda.
2. Comedians talking (or writing) about comedy is only
ever interesting but never funny.
3. 2021 SCC 43 Ward.
4. Ibid at para 105.
5. Ibid at para 20.
6. Ibid at para 107.
7. Ibid at para 119.
8. The majority decision was written by Wagner C.J.
and Moldaver J. and concurred in by Côté, Brown
and Rowe JJ. Those in dissent were Abella, Karakatsanis,
Martin and Kasirer JJ.
9. Ward, supra note 3 at para 4.
10. Ibid at para 5.
11. Ibid at paras 28–30.
12. Ibid at para 43.
13. Ibid at paras 59 and 60.
14. Ibid at para 70.
15. 2013 SCC 11.
16. Ibid at para 77 emphasis added.
17. Ibid at 82.