Those who wanted Elephant Man’s Ottawa date cancelled have won. The Carleton University student union, which had planned the show, pulled the plug on Oct 4, says Osmel Maynes, the student group’s vice-president of external affairs.
Maynes says that Elephant Man was willing to sign a document renouncing his anti-gay lyrics, but the group that developed the Reggae Compassionate Act refused to hand it over.
Elephant Man’s Sep 28 Toronto date was cancelled at the last minute by the venue, Kool Haus. Stop Murder Music, a coalition of queer groups from Jamaica and elsewhere, works to have dancehall performers’ shows cancelled if they have homophobic lyrics.
“Any public statement needs to made in Jamaica,” says Akim Larcher of Stop Murder Music.
According to Larcher, Jamaicans facing pressure abroad have signed similar documents in the past, but the Acts proved “not to be worth the paper [they?re] printed on,” when the artists get back to Jamaica, says Larcher.
“Having them make a statement just so they can perform, that’s not in keeping with our goals,” he says.
He says that neither he nor Jamaican queer groups were consulted during the process, and the Carleton Undergraduate Student Association (CUSA) was trying to do damage control when they should have done their research in advance.
While bickering between CUSA and Stop Murder Music may be clouding the debate, the important topic of free speech may get lost in the murky water.
Larcher says that getting his message out is a large part of why the SMM tries to muzzle musicians. It may be ironic, but given the widespread media attention he’s getting, it seems to have worked.
“One of our main aims is to bring awareness to homophobia in the Caribbean-Canadian community and in the Caribbean,” he says.
He says he supports freedom of expression.
“What we are arguing is that he’s inciting violence and murder through his lyrics. No right is absolute. And that right stops when you’re inciting people to violence and murder,” he says.
But for people like Ashley Hunkin, a member of the CUSA executive, it’s open debate that will help bring people like Elephant Man around.
“You can’t just yell at people and expect them to have a sudden awakening on the issue, you have to debate it and convince them and give them a reason to move on the issue,” says Hunkin.