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Queen's University
 

The Singer Case (1976)

When do offensive caricatures and epithets "indicate discrimination"?

Facts:

In 1974, Barry Singer filed a complaint against a drive-in restaurant for displaying 1) a sign bearing the name "Sambo's Pepper Pot" and the caricature of a small grinning man of colour, dressed in a chef's hat and grass skirt and for having produced matchbooks and automobile stickers bearing the same figure, saying "Jez Ain't None Better".  The complainant claimed that these representations were discriminatory against persons of colour, and were therefore prohibited under Section 4 (1) of the Saskatchewan Fair Accommodation Practices Act. The respondents claimed that the restaurant had no intention of discriminating against black persons who wished to work or eat at the restaurant. The chairman of the board ruled despite the non-discriminatory intention of the restaurant, the representations indicated discrimination.  (Singer v. Iwasyk and Pennywise Foods Limited, (1976)).

Issues:

  1. Is there a distinction between representations indicating an intention to discriminate and those indicating discrimination?
  2. Did the sign, matchbooks and automobile stickers indicate an intention to discriminate?
  3. Did the sign, matchbooks and automobile stickers contain elements that indicated discrimination? 
  4. Were these elements likely to result in offense taken by the targeted group and/or in inequality in employment, services or housing?

Ruling:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Yes
  4. Yes

Reasoning:

  1. The chairman of the board distinguished between signs that indicate an intention to discriminate and/or those that indicate discrimination: "The Saskatchewan Fair Accommodation Practices Act evokes two categories of discriminatory representations: 1) those that indicate an intention to discriminate, for example, a notice stating that members of a designated group will not be hired, served or housed at the public establishment where the notice is displayed; and 2) those indicative of a discriminatory predilection resulting in discrimination in the double form of a) offense taken, or likely to be taken, by persons targeted by the representation and b) the infringement of human rights to equal opportunities in employment, services and housing.
  2. The sign, matchbooks and automobile stickers from Sambo's Pepper Pot did not indicate an intention to discriminate in the areas of housing, services and employment. 
  3. The representations contained several elements that signified a discriminatory attitude: "Sambo" is a name that was used to designate a slave, the stereotypical portrait of whom was associated with dark skin, childishness, laziness, irresponsibility, unintelligence, excessive cheerfulness, primitiveness, loyalty etc... It can be used, by extension, to designate, negatively, all colonized/post-colonized visible minorities. The caricature used by PennyWise foods embodies these and other stereotypical attributes: the dark skin colour connotes race; the diminutive size of the figure signifies childishness, the skirt stands for both primitiveness and emasculation, and the grin implies excessive cheerfulness. The words "Jez ain't none better" signify a dialect associated with lower class status and poor education.
  4. The Chairman of the Board said there was a direct causal link between the display, on the sign, of negative stereotypes and the indication of discrimination: " It seems to us that to ask the question is to answer it. If a stereotypical image of a certain class of persons as incompetent, childish and funny is allowed to be displayed, the opportunities of members of the class to obtain responsible jobs on an equal footing with the majority class grouping are endangered. The effect of such a caricature is to reinforce prejudice against blacks and as a consequence to prolong the existence of hangovers of prejudice against non-white minority groups in Canada. It also promotes a negative image about blacks. In the above sense the representation in question indicates discrimination against blacks, and falls within the meaning of section" 4(1).

The 1976 ruling of The Matter of a Complaint of Barry Singer against W.N. lwasyk and Pennywise Foods Ltd was initially quashed by the Court of Queen's Bench of Saskatchewan in (1977), 6 W.W.R. 699, but was restored by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in its decision reported at (1978), 5 W.W.R. 499. The quashing Order of the trial Court was not based on the merits of the complaint, but was based on technical evidentiary grounds.

 

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000