MONTREAL — A singer embroiled in a legal battle with a Quebec comedian says he is shutting down his social media accounts after receiving “a significant number of hate messages,” including death threats.

Jeremy Gabriel won a human rights case against comedian Mike Ward in 2016, arguing that a joke mocking his disability had amounted to discrimination.

He says vitriol directed at him has intensified since he was back in the news last week when Ward’s appeal was heard. The comedian was in court seeking to overturn a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruling that ordered him to pay $42,000 in damages to Gabriel and his mother.

“I understand and respect opinions and criticism disapproving of my positions and my activities,” Gabriel wrote in a Facebook message Monday before he closed his accounts to the public at midnight. “However, I will never understand that so much hate can be spread by so many people who in reality do not know me.”

Gabriel, 22, has Treacher Collins syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by skull and facial deformities. Known in Quebec as “Little Jeremy,” he became a minor celebrity in the province after he sang with Celine Dion and for the Pope.

Between 2010 and 2013, Ward included a joke in his routine that made fun of Gabriel’s appearance. The tribunal concluded Ward’s joke violated Gabriel’s right to dignity, honour and reputation, as well as his right to equality and to be safe from discrimination.

In his statement, Gabriel said there is a “limit to what a human being can bear, and this limit was crossed in recent days.” The singer’s manager Jean Perruno said he did not know if Gabriel intends to file a police complaint about the threats.

Julius Grey, a lawyer for Ward argued last week that the joke targeting Gabriel might be considered distasteful but it was not discriminatory. He warned that the ruling against his client could have a chilling effect on comedians in the province.

Ward’s manager said Tuesday the comedian has no comment on the latest development. Last week, Ward was unapologetic as he spoke to journalists outside the courtroom. He said it was just a joke, and he hasn’t performed it in six years. “I find it disgusting that I’m here. I will keep fighting,” he said.

The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press