ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ISSUES
final DECISION ON HATE RAP COMPLAINT
decision from Ontario Human Rights Commission, May 9, 2007: Please
note when reading this decision, that HMV didn't do anything throughout
this entire process except defend their right to sell hate material, so
item (3) in which the OHRC states that HMV "has taken measures to
address the concerns raised by the complainant" is completely
Labour Lawyers - Appeal of OHRC Decision, October 25, 2021
release October 15, 2006: Hate Rap Doesn't Contravene
Code... If Sold Tastefully
Decision from Ontario Human Rights
Commission, September 26, 2021
Watson Labour Lawyers
- Response to OHRC
Case Analysis Report, August 8, 2021
Labour Lawyers - News release September 26, 2006: Less Talk More Action on
Misogynist "Gangsta" Rap
against HMV Canada Inc. re sale of hate rap, September 15, 2021
No rap slap - Human Rights Commission disses complaint about
hiphop's hate-on for women
November 30 - December 6, 2020
By Sigcino Moyo
No one would have blinked if the
complaint brought to the Ontario Human Rights Commission against HMV
Canada Inc. for selling rap tunes hostile to women had been overshadowed
by a debate on freedom of expression.
But such weighty considerations seem to
have been completely lost on the commission.
Along with its recent recommendation that
culture activist Valerie Smith's case not be given a full hearing before
the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the OHRC rendered a bewildering
decision against her charge that Canada's largest retailer is poisoning
attitudes against women.
Nowhere in the legalese, which smells a
lot like bureaucratic fence-sitting to this gangsta-rap-lovin' scribe,
does the OHRC deal with the main point of Smith's complaint: that the
sale of offensive rap music constitutes discrimination against an
identifiable group, namely women.
The commission did find that the lyrics
Smith cited by some of the most reviled purveyors of rap – Snoop Dogg,
50 Cent, Eminem and Ja Rule – are "violent, hateful and abusive
towards women and clearly contrary to the values of the [Ontario Human
Indeed, the Code itself speaks clearly
about discrimination based on sex, which includes "sexual
harassment or inappropriate comments and actions of a sexual nature…,
offensive remarks…, rough and vulgar humour or language related to
However, the OHRC chose a narrow, and
curious, interpretation of its own Code in Smith's case. From the
commission's perspective, the manner in which the offending tunes are
hawked, not the content of the tunes in question, must "result in
unequal treatment to the complainant in services on the basis of her
gender" for there to be any contravention of the Code.
The OHRC maintains that the sale of the
music in question had not "created an environment that poisoned or
chilled a reasonable woman from purchasing other goods." In saying
this, it notes that HMV doesn't play the offending music over the sound
system in the store or display "posters with misogynist images that
would be associated with the misogynist lyrics."
So that means, says Smith, "that
it's okay to poison society in general with this music, but if you
poison the immediate environment, then that brings you in conflict with
the Code. How bizarre is that?" Further, the OHRC ruling says Smith
herself was not "subjected to unequal treatment with respect to the
provision of goods and services because of sex." And it says HMV
didn't refuse gender-based "access to their website or stores or
treat her differently.''
Smith's lawyer, Cynthia Watson, says one
of the purposes of the Code is education, and that an opportunity has
been missed. "We weren't asking for inappropriate sanctions against
HMV, but for the commission to ensure there was appropriate public
education,'' she explains.
The argument that there's no
discrimination under the Human Rights Code as long as there is equal
access to the offensive material is "fatally flawed," Watson
says. The whole idea of equal access to hateful and discriminatory
material runs contrary to the Criminal Code, which sets out harsh
penalties for the promotion of hate.
Alas, women are not classified as an
"identifiable group" in the Criminal Code, and that's the main
reason Smith brought her complaint against HMV in the first place. It
was her hope that a favourable ruling by the Commission would provide
the legal ammo needed to push in that direction.
Maybe the OHRC is sending a cagey
backhanded political message, in effect saying to the federal
government, "There's nothing we can do unless women are protected
as a group under the Criminal Code"?
According to Watson, the commission did
not collect sufficient information to make the assessment that Smith's
complaint is without merit. She says no data was gathered from HMV
relating either to its sales policy or its efforts to comply with the
Code. On this basis, Smith has filed an appeal of the OHRC's decision.
But that means Smith and Watson are just
going back to the same body that rendered the negative analysis in the
first place. Once the appeal route is exhausted, the more serious
consideration will be whether to pursue a judicial review application in
court on the grounds that the OHRC has improperly failed to exercise its
From HMV, meanwhile, the song remains the
same. Company VP of product, Dan Kuczkowski, declined to comment when
Smith filed her complaint back in September 2005, and has not returned
NOW's calls requesting a comment on this decision. Perhaps they're not
ready to gloat just yet.
Hiphop goes on trial
Human rights body weighs charge that rap pushes violence against women
November 3 - 9, 2005
By Sigcino Moyo
I'm camped out in the second-to-last row
of a high school auditorium when some chatty teens behind me start
whining about having to attend this, for them, mandatory assembly. It's
the first performance of The Barbershop Show, a hiphop musical on a
Canada-wide Human Rights Education tour, the brainchild of non-profit
org the 411 Initiative for Change and sponsored by Amnesty
International, among others.
The idea is to reach young people by
using contemporary music to pique their interest "in issues that
affect their peers," including "violence against women and
After some inital trepidation, the
captive audience is soon won over by the skills of the Barbershop
quartet and positive hiphop culture proponent Will Strickland.
"I find it interesting that rap
music is always the easiest scapegoat to target," Strickland,
creator and professor of the first-ever accredited course on rap culture
at the U. of Massachusetts-Amherst, tells me over the phone a few days
later. "Sex and sexism is in our social and cultural fabric. Hiphop
culture did not start or perfect misogyny, which is part of the
condition we live in."
But Strickland's less pumped when the
subject shifts to why I'm really calling, a complaint filed with the
Ontario Human Rights Commission against HMV by women's rights activist
Valerie Smith over what she calls the peddling of "hate rap."
"Unless they want to bring an
indictment against the music industry as a whole," Strickland says,
chances are the OHRC will dismiss the case. It does, nevertheless, raise
some intriguing legal questions.
The thrust of Smith's complaint is that
according to human rights legislation, HMV is selling "goods that
contain significant amounts of gender-related verbal abuse.
In so doing, the company is
discriminating against women."
"Hate rap," she says, "has
spread into the mainstream of popular culture and is both poisoning
attitudes toward women and girls and encouraging violence against
Smith, who runs her own website and whose
activism was sparked by her revulsion at slasher movies, says the human
rights route is "an act of desperation, because we [women] are not
covered under the hate propaganda law, which is why this type of
language has become so pervasive."
Her claim names the usual suspects: Snoop
Dogg, 50 cent, Eminem and Ja Rule. She tried to use federal hate laws to
keep bile rapper Eminem from performing here, but to no avail because
"gender" is not an identifiable group in this legislation.
The provincial human rights code is the
next level of "protection" down the chain. She believes it's
relevant because it talks about "discrimination… based on sex
[which] includes... sexual harassment or inappropriate comments and
actions of a sexual nature… offensive remarks… rough and vulgar
humour or language related to gender."
A self-described "pop culture
junkie," Smith succeeded in pressuring Bell Mobility to cease
offering $2.50 downloads of "Pimptones" – pre-recorded skits
of pimps, players and hos at their vernacular finest to be used instead
of a standard rings or music. She also forced two individual Jumbo Video
franchises to cull their "extreme splatter old-fashioned"
slasher flick offerings.
It's hard to argue with Smith's
observation that "there's been a really dramatic shift" in
public discourse on misogyny when you see corporate giants lining up to
get in bed with rappers while distancing themselves from artists who use
homophobic or racist material.
For instance, self-described "motherfuckin'
P-I-M-P" Snoop Dogg appears in ads as a shill for Chrysler.
"This is clearly an indication that attitudes [toward women] have
been poisoned," says Smith.
The commission's powers are very broad,
in that it can order the payment of damages or otherwise do what is
necessary to right discrimination.
In reality, however, U of T law prof
Denise Réaume believes the chances of the OHRC ordering HMV to stop
selling offensive rap are "extremely unlikely."
While some empirical research supports
the proposition that exposure to material akin to rap influences
attitudes toward women, "there's also a dispute about the validity
of those studies," according to Réaume, because there are other
contributing factors at play, and "a causal link is hard to make,
given how much of our culture is misogynistic."
Says Réaume, "The use of criminal
law in this context is very often counterproductive. This is heavy
artillery – someone's going to jail, and that's not to be toyed with.
The human rights mechanism is interesting because it makes for a debate,
as opposed to the power of the state against an individual."
For instance, asks Réaume, "What
does it do to our thinking when people walk around humming these tunes
while thinking of the lyrics?"
At HMV, Dan Kuczkowski, VP of product,
declines to comment. "We've got nothing to comment on because we
haven't received anything from the human rights board, and until then I
can't comment on anything," he says.
Chanteuse Melanie Durrant, who plays a
character in an abusive relationship in one Barbershop skit, doesn't
appreciate the "bitch this and ho that" one bit, but
"it's not just the men," she points out.
She alludes to the current buzz over the
Black Eyed Peas song My Humps, a Flow top 10 request in which the lone
female in the group, Pea Fergie, sings about her glorious breasts.
And don't get her started on artist
Khia's even more explicit exhortations to thugs, "Lick my pussy and
But is Durrant then being somewhat
hypocritical, since she's opened for thug du jour 50 Cent?
"I'm a Canadian artist, which
automatically makes me the underdog," she answers. "My music
has a hiphop undertone, so if a big show comes through town I have to be
there. That's the situation."
And beside, she adds, " I'm not
saying bad things – and all those people get to see me first."
Of course, there's no shortage of adoring
female fans at hiphop gigs. Is hiphop any worse than other art or social
commentary that reflects negative aspects of our culture?
Another person on the local hiphop scene,
former Dope Poet BellaDonna, aka Donna Michelle, is of several minds on
the matter after absorbing lyrics submitted as part of Smith's
Michelle says Smith "lacks a certain
understanding of hiphop culture," and that "a broader
complaint against hateful material across all genres of music would be
But she also admits to feeling "hurt
and violated" by some rap content. "All I can do is not buy
this stuff and ask my colleagues to stop destroying our communities in
this sick manner."
On the page, the lyrics are hard to
defend outright, but some sure do cut a hell of a groove.
Still, when corporations primarily
motivated by money get behind the production of certain cultural forms,
society as a whole should be wary.
At this point in the game, is the
stereotypical mainstream portrait of the black pimp coming from the
streets or the boardroom?
Rights crusader fights ‘hate rap’
She fought Bell over its ‘PimpTones.’ Now Valerie
Smith is taking on HMV for selling hip-hop music with language that
degrades women, writes JOANNE LAUCIUS.
October 10, 2021
By Joanne Laucius
Valerie Smith, the Toronto activist who
filed an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint against Bell Mobility
over its “PimpTones” cellphone ringtones, has a new target. This
time she’s launched a complaint against music distributor HMV over “hate
rap” — rap and hip-hop music by artists like Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent,
Eminem and Jay-Z that refers to women as “bitches” and “ho’s.”
Ms. Smith’s argument is that these
lyrics — and video images such as the rapper Nelly swiping a credit
card down a woman’s derrière — contravene the Ontario Human Rights
Code and the commission’s own policy on sexual harassment and
gender-related comments and conduct.
Ms. Smith named HMV in the complaint
because it’s the biggest music distributor in Canada. “You have to
start somewhere,” said Ms. Smith, who several years ago targeted a
couple of video stores for distributing 1960s slasher films that
depicted women being attacked.
Canada’s hate propaganda laws protect
people from being attacked because of race or sexual orientation, but
not because of sex. Women lack crucial protection extended to other
groups, argues Ms. Smith, an office manager for a mining company based
in downtown Toronto who has made several high-profile human rights
She has had to deflect suggestions that
an attack on rap is an attack on black culture. “It’s not a black
thing. It’s a guy thing. Misogyny crosses all races,” she said. “If
the harm caused by gangsta rap was restricted to black women, that would
be reason enough to try and get rid of it, but it is not. It affects all
women of all races. Plus, white boys and men are the biggest market for
this music, so it directly affects my particular group of society.”
Rap and hip-hop’s gender trouble is a
sprawling and knotty puzzle and it is playing out in the media, in
politics and even in academic circles. Some have argued that gangsta rap
music is deeply harmful to the black community and that it helps
perpetuate racist stereotypes. Irony abounds. Some have charged that
blacks have become the agents in selling racist images of themselves to
whites — about three quarters of rap and hip-hop music is sold to
Calls to tame rap and hiphop have been
around for more than 15 years. Those who have led the charge have risked
becoming figures of ridicule, including black activist C. DeLores
Tucker, who sued the estate of slain rapper Tupac Shakur over
allegations his lyrics defamed her.
New campaigns appear. Last January,
Essence magazine launched a campaign called “Take Back the Music”
that called for a debate on hip-hop’s “toxic” culture. On one
Ludacris album cover, the rapper appears ready to bite into a woman’s
leg. White rapper Eminem has rapped “Bleed, bitch, bleed” and refers
to an old girlfriend as a “black bitch.” “An entire generation of
black girls are being raised on these narrow images,” said Essence.
Hip-hop journalist Jimi Izrael shot back
that the hiphop culture is a reflection of culture at large. Nelly or
Ludacris don’t objectify women any more than James Brown did, he
wrote. “The battle of the sexes has turned into an all-out war, with
economics and feminist related issues taking precedence over building
and fortifying the black family. Hip hop didn’t create that —it just
reports it,” wrote Mr. Izrael. “Today’s hip-hop music reflects this
generation’s frustration, but more than that, it satisfies the
curiosity and fetishes of its mainly white audience.”
Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, said the
“product” hip-hop sells is black hypermasculinity and hypersexuality.
For more than 50 years, white men have seen black hypermasculinity as a
way to live on the edge, he said. “Clearly, part of the appeal is that
it’s a way to be resistant, not in any complex and political way, but
as a way to combat the status quo.” Asking
hip-hop to become anti-sexist or anti-misogynist would strip it of its
appeal. It “may be asking hip hop to do something that it’s
fundamentally incapable of,” said Mr. Neal.
Rap and hip-hop are maturing and they’re
already changing the political landscape. Many major artists, including
some of the most controversial figures, are already using their
unprecedented personal wealth and personal magnetism to attract
attention to their issues. Sean Combs, for example, who was charged and
acquitted in a shooting incident in a nightclub, used his pop culture
muscle to urge young voters to go to the polls in last fall’ s U.S.
federal election. Controversial hiphop producer Russell Simmons, whose
memoir was titled Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money and God has used his
money and star power to attract attention to the “three strikes”
mandatory sentencing laws.
Ms. Smith believes the issue of rap music
and its influence needs to be raised to the level of public debate. And
she won’t shy away from the issue of censorship. “I’m not so
afraid of the C word that I can’t say it out loud,” said Ms. Smith,
who points out that Canada already exercises censorship over some forms
of expression, including child porn and hate propaganda. “This is our
Dudley Laws, who heads Toronto’s Black
Action Defence Committee, has battled Toronto police repeatedly over the
shooting deaths of black youth. He has also been critical of the
influence of rap music and its glorification of violence, gangsta
lifestyle and disrespect for women. But rap music and its effects on
youth are not currently among his most burning causes.
“We’re involved in more urgent
issues,” said Mr. Laws, who said there is not much that can be done
about rap and its influence. “How do we correct it?” he asked. “The
only thing we do is not listen to it, not buy it and encourage others
not to listen to it.”
HMV selling 'hate': Foe
October 4, 2021
Human rights complaint filed over gangsta rap
By Ian Robertson
anti-violence activist wants human rights officials to rap a large music
chain for selling "gangsta" tunes she alleges promote hatred
Valerie Smith, an office manager at a
downtown firm, says she filed an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint
against HMV Canada on Sept. 15.
She cited HMV's sale of CDs by rappers
Eminem, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Jay-Z and Webbie.
"These men routinely refer to women in
their lyrics as bitches and whores, often accompanied by violence or
threats of violence," Smith writes in her complaint.
"The abusive language of 'hate rap' --
rap/hip hop music that denigrates women -- has crossed over into the
mainstream of North America society and is poisoning attitudes towards
women," she charges.
In 2000, Smith failed to get police to
charge Eminem with hate crimes before his concert for 20,000 fans at
SkyDome (since renamed the Rogers Centre.) But after she lobbied
Attorney General Michael Bryant, he called publicly for a crackdown on
violent and hateful music. "The issue was then dropped by the
province," Smith said yesterday.
Among Eminem's songs is One Shot 2 Shot,
about a gangland shootout in a
"The shooter's comin' / Bitches, hoes,
niggas runnin' / People shot all over
the floor / And I'm tryna make it to the St. Andrew's door."
Smith said gangsta rap music is now even
used by white supremacists to defend their hatred of blacks.
Claiming the "misogynist content of
rap" has been reported by the media since the mid-1990s, she said HMV
executives cannot be ignorant of the content of "the hate rap CDs
they offer for sale" at 102 stores, 45 in Ontario.
Selling goods that contain gender-related
verbal abuse "is discriminating against women," she said.
She based her latest campaign on the
Ontario Human Rights Code, which states sex harassment includes
"offensive remarks, gender-related verbal abuse, rough and vulgar
humour or language related to gender."
Isabel Collie, executive assistant to HMV
Canada president Humphrey Kadaner, said HMV had received the complaint but
didn't know what action it would take.
to read the initial complaint letter to the Ontario Human Rights
Commission. The OHRC requires their own complaint forms to be
filed and these will remain confidential.
to read News Release "HMV Canada Accused of Selling Hate Rap"
to read News Release "Canadians Urged to File Human Rights Complaints
Against Pimp Products"
for "Homophobia Bad - Sexism Good" - examples from the music
to read a letter from federal politician Svend Robinson in which he
explains why he won't add "gender" to Bill C-250, an act to
add sexual orientation to the protected groups in Canada's Criminal Code
hate propaganda law
to read examples of opposition to gangsta rap
Visit the Hate
Propaganda section on this site for more information
previous human rights complaint against hmv canada
October 6, 2021 update: HMV Canada was previously the target of another complaint, this time about
hate rock CDs produced by Deicide and Type O Negative. The
complaint was filed with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship
Commission and a decision was issued by a Human Rights Panel in May 2003.
The Panel did not find in favour of the complainant because the CDs have a
small circulation and the target group -- white people and Christians --
were not seriously threatened by the music, in the Panel's opinion.
is an encouraging precedent for the current complaint against HMV for
selling hate rap because these CDs are very widely distributed and the
target group -- women -- are seriously threatened by the situation.
person's complaint about hate rock could have been filed under the
Criminal Code hate propaganda law because both race and religion are
included in that law. The reason women have to resort to human
rights legislation is because the federal government refuses to add
"gender" to the hate propaganda law, although it recently
amended the law to protect those identified by their sexual orientation
to read the decision of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship
similar cases accepted by the ontario human rights commission
October 8, 2021 update: There are, at
least, four cases that appear to set a precedent for the OHRC to accept
the HMV hate rap complaint. Click here
to read items on a complaint about the sale of pornographic magazines in
convenience stores that went to a Human Rights
Board of Inquiry. The OHRC also
accepted three complaints filed by Smith and a colleague in 1992 regarding
slasher films -- one against the Ontario Film Review Board (click here
to read the resolution) and two
against Jumbo Video stores in Brampton, Ontario. The complaints
were resolved through mediation.
responses from politicians
October 10, 2021 update: The HMV hate rap
complaint was emailed to all federal and Ontario politicians.
Their responses will be posted here.
from Stockwell Day, MP
from Frank Klees, MPP
Email from Kathleen Wynne,