David Tanovich, “R v Campbell: Rethinking the Admissibility of Rap Lyrics in Criminal Cases” (2016) 24 Criminal Reports (7th) 27-43.
Windsor Law Faculty Author: David Tanovich
R v Campbell is one of the few cases in North America to exclude rap lyrics as evidence of guilt in criminal cases. Unlike in Canada, the issue of criminalizing rap has received considerable attention in the United States. This article begins by documenting the Canadian experience. It is a response to the call for research by two leading American scholars on the phenomenon of putting rap on trial, Professors Charis Kubrin and Erik Nielson. After documenting and discussing 36 Canadian cases, the article examines the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v Simard and the two leading trial decisions R v Campbell and R v Williams.
Generally speaking, the Canadian cases have failed to apply a culturally competent lens when assessing probative value and, to address the relevance of race and bias, when assessing prejudicial effect. The article urges our courts to put the rap back in rap by taking a culturally competent and critical race approach to admissibility.