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Queen's University

The Rasheed Case (1980)

When do racial, religious or ethnic caricatures/epithets indicate discrimination?


In June 1980, Harry Howe, the Attorney-General for Nova Scotia reportedly made the following comment about Cape-Bretoners: ""The trouble is, there are too many people in Cape Breton like that, with a big mouth and no mind". The following month, Mr. Bramhill, an entrepreneur, capitalized on the scandal provoked by this politically incorrect comment, by producing 5000 white buttons featuring a black female face mouthing the words "I'm a big-mouthed Cape-Bretoner, so kiss me". The black community in Cape-Breton was offended by the buttons. On behalf of the Black United Front, a Mr. Hamid Rasheed complained to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission that the buttons discriminated against persons of colour contrary to Section 12.1 of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, which reads "No person shall publish, display or broadcast, or permit to be published, displayed or broadcast on lands or premises, or in a newspaper or through a radio or television broadcasting station or by means of any other medium, any notice, sign, symbol, implement or other representation indicating discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person, or class of person for any purpose. In the hearing, the Respondent argued that he had no intention to discriminate against persons of colour; his only intention was to make some extra money while "sticking it to Nova Scotia's Attorney-General Harry Howe". He explained that the human head on his button was black only because he had decided to cut costs by using only black ink. He said that although his button might be offensive, it was not discriminatory. Although the chairman of the board was satisfied that the respondent had not intended to discriminate against persons of colour, he ruled that the representation indicated discrimination contrary to Section 12.1 (Black United Front v. Bramhill (1980), 2 CHRR D/249 (NS Bd Inq).


  1. Did the button maker intend to discriminate against the black community?
  2. Was his button offensive to members of the black community?
  3. Given the context of oppression against Black persons, did this representation indicate discrimination?


  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Yes


  1. The chairman of the board was satisfied that the respondent had not intended to discriminate against persons of colour in the areas of employment, services or accommodation.
  2. However, he determined that "The button [...] conveys the idea that Black persons in general or female Black persons in particular, are loud and stupid. The button thus emphasized a distinguishing characteristic of a negative type."
  3. "Taken in the historical context of the Black community as a racial minority, it goes beyond bad taste and mere offensiveness. Such a statement might, for example, very well tend to activate latent prejudice and indirectly affect employment opportunities for Blacks".  

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