Final 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 false. 

Watson Labour Lawyers - Appeal of OHRC Decision, October 25, 2021

News 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

Watson Labour Lawyers - News release September 26, 2006: Less Talk More Action on Misogynist "Gangsta" Rap

Complaint 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
NOW Magazine
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 Rights] Code."

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 gender."

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 jurisdiction.

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
NOW Magazine
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 girls."

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 us."

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 R�aume 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 R�aume, 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 R�aume, "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 R�aume, "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 my crack."

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 complaint.

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 more valid."

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
Ottawa Citizen
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 derri�re � 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 complaints.

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 white consumers.

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.� 

Mark Anthony 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 legal framework.�

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
Human rights complaint filed over gangsta rap

October 4, 2021
Toronto Sun
By Ian Robertson

An anti-violence activist wants human rights officials to rap a large music chain for selling "gangsta" tunes she alleges promote hatred against women.

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.

information linkS

Click here 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.

Click here to read News Release "HMV Canada Accused of Selling Hate Rap"

Click here to read News Release "Canadians Urged to File Human Rights Complaints Against Pimp Products"

Click here for "Homophobia Bad - Sexism Good" - examples from the music industry

Click here 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

Click here 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. 

This 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.

This 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 (Bill C-250). 

Click here to read the decision of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.

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.

Letter from Stockwell Day, MP
Email from Frank Klees, MPP
Email from Kathleen Wynne, MPP