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Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2006/09/24 - To counter the misogynistic content of “gangsta” rap, Valerie Smith, a Toronto activist has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission against HMV Canada, Inc. (“HMV”).
Represented by Cynthia Watson of Watson Labour Lawyers, Ms. Smith seeks a ban on the sale of “gangsta” rap by HMV.
The rap industry makes millions of dollars annually by selling music that glorifies the mistreatment of women. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the rap/hip hop genre accounted for 13.3% of over $12 billion in music sales in 2005 alone. “Gangsta” rap is a sub genre characterised by song lyrics that glorify violence, crime, drug use, misogyny and the “pimp” lifestyle. HMV is Canada’s leading music retailer and features “gangsta” rap on its website and in its stores.
Ms. Watson argues that Ms Smith’s rights under s. 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code have been violated. Section 1 requires equal treatment with respect to goods and services. The purpose of human rights legislation is to create a climate of “understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person.” Gangster rap, which promotes violence against women, is at complete odds with the purpose of the Code. Furthermore, by selecting and selling music that contains misogynist lyrics, HMV is condoning verbal abuse against women. This conduct contributes to gender based discrimination.
HMV challenged the ability of the Commission to address Ms. Smith’s complaint on the grounds that it is entitled to free speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to HMV, any order of the Tribunal restricting the sale of hate rap would violate its right to freedom of expression. The Supreme Court of Canada, however, has held that freedom of speech is not an absolute right. In fact, Parliament has seen fit to criminalize hate speech against certain groups under the Criminal Code. Noticeably absent, however, is protection for women against hate speech. As a result, human rights legislation is currently the only means by which a woman can gain such protection.
In a recent decision, an Investigator with the Commission agreed with Ms. Smith that “some of the lyrics [of gangsta rap] are violent, hateful and abusive towards women and are clearly contrary to the values of the Code.” However, he decided not to refer the case further on the grounds that while the music is clearly offensive, HMV did not discriminate against Ms. Smith on the basis of sex in the provision of goods and services. Watson Labour Lawyers is currently appealing the decision.
Watson Labour Lawyers (watsonlabourlaw.com) is a cutting edge union side labour law firm which offers expert representation in a number of fora. Cindy Watson has a busy labour litigation practice, regularly appearing before arbitration panels, tribunals, various labour boards and the Courts. She has extensive experience in both the private and public sectors in the federal and provincial spheres in construction, industrial and professional contexts.
If you would like more information about the case or to schedule an interview please contact Cindy Watson at 1-877-646-5595.