Articles and information on Bell Mobility's 'pimptones'


June 11, 2007 - Complaint resolved

On August 25, 2005, I filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) against Bell Mobility over their sell of "Pimp Tones", cell phone ring tones that use abusive language and threaten or feature violence against women.  Originally, I filed the complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (click here to read this letter), but because telephone companies are federally regulated, I had to re-file with the CHRC.  Click here to read my complaint letter to the CHRC.  This letter is based on the idea that the ring tones are pre-recorded telephone hate messages.  However, I subsequently changed the complaint to one of straight discrimination based on advice from CHRC staff.  This was submitted on a CHRC form, so it is not posted here, but this is the section of the Canadian Human Rights Act under which it was filed:

5.  It is a discriminatory practice in the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation customarily available to the general public (b) to differentiate adversely in relation to any individual, on a prohibited ground of discrimination [race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted].

The complaint was accepted by the CHRC and settled through their mediation efforts on June 11, 2007.  At this point, I withdrew my complaint, as the desired results had been achieved, but only, it must be stressed, as a result of CHRC intervention.  While Bell had pulled the original Pimp Tones following negative media coverage, they continued to sell ring tones called "PIMP" and "P.I.M.P." by misogynist rapper, 50 Cent, ring tones which Bell described as "sanitized" and which they intended to continue selling.  They only removed these ring tones during the week of May 14, 2007 under pressure from CHRC staff. Click here to read the resolution document.

This is a victory for women because it means that complaints can be filed with the CHRC against  other federally-regulated companies that sell pimp products, even if they are "sanitized".  Bell also advised the CHRC that my complaint "has had an impact on their operations" and they are "much more careful about the material they make available to the public".  The file will now be passed to Commission prevention staff and I was told that "The information contained in your file will be of assistance to us if any further concerns arise with respect to the ring tones that Bell Mobility makes available to its customers."

Two Human Rights Commissions - Two Different Attitudes Towards Protecting the Public

One final point needs to be made.  I filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission against HMV Canada over misogynist rap CDs (find information in the Hate Propaganda section on this complaint).  This is the section of the Ontario Human Rights Code under which it was filed:

1. Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status or disability".  

As you can see, this section is very similar to the section in the Canadian Human Rights Act under which I filed the complaint against Bell, and the products forming the basis of the complaints are also similar. However, while the CHRC acted to curb the sale of misogynist products, the Ontario Human Rights Commission refused to act, saying "the complaint does not fall under the provision of goods or services or any other of the enumerated social areas under the Code".  One Commission acted to protect girls and women, one Commission refused to act.  Interesting, don't you think?

Valerie Smith
Toronto, Ontario
July 2, 2007


'Pimptones' prompt human rights complaint 

Bell's ringtones a public 'poison', Toronto woman says

August 19, 2005
Ottawa Citizen
By Glen McGregor, CanWest News Service

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has been asked to investigate a contentious series of cellphone ringtones that referred to women as "bitches" and "hoes."

A Toronto woman filed a complaint with the commission alleging that "Pimp-Tones" sold by Bell Mobility create a "poisoned environment" for women who hear them in public places, such as restaurants, malls or buses and subways.

"I take the GO Train to work every day and cellphones with a variety of ringtones are constantly going off all around me," writes Valerie Smith in her complaint. "Being exposed to PimpTones would definitely create a poisoned environment for me."

Ms. Smith wants the commission to determine whether the PimpTones violate Ontario's human rights code, which bans the sale of goods that discriminate on the basis of sex. She says the PimpTones qualify as sexual harassment, defined by the code as "offensive remarks, gender-related verbal abuse, rough and vulgar humour or language related to gender."

The PimpTones - voice recordings of actors speaking in urban slang - could be downloaded to Bell cellphones for a $2.50 fee. They were removed from the Bell Mobility website only after a Citizen report.

Bell initially defended Pimp-Tones, saying they were offered in response to consumer demand for what was a "huge phenomenon" in popular culture.

A Bell spokeswoman said the company was aware of Ms. Smith's complaint but would not formally respond until the OHRC determined whether it had jurisdiction to proceed. Nessa Prendergast said Bell stopped selling the PimpTones based on customer feedback. "We have also revisited and revised the process we use for the selection of content."

Ms. Smith said an unknown number of PimpTones were downloaded before they were withdrawn by Bell and could still be in use.

She wants the OHRC to send a message to Bell and possibly recommend sensitivity training.

"I'm fed up to the eyeballs with the whole pimp thing and the way it's creeping into everything," she said. "Stuff that used to hover around the margins of pop culture has moved right into the mainstream. Bell used to be such a respected company. Now they're doing this."

Her complaint quotes film director Spike Lee, who talked about what he called "pimp rap" in hip-hop culture during a visit to Toronto earlier this year. When artists talk about 'Ho this' and 'Bitch this' and 'Skank this,' they're talking about our mothers, our sisters and daughters," he said during a lecture to Ryerson University students. "We're in a time when young black boys and girls want to be pimps and strippers because that's what they see."

Ms. Smith is a self-described community activist who runs fradical.com, a website concerned with depictions of violence in the media.

She says she hopes Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant will support her complaint about PimpTones.

As an opposition MPP, Mr. Bryant had publicly spoken out in protest of a 2000 concert in Toronto by rapper Eminem, who some critics allege promotes violence in his music. Mr. Bryant has also been vocal in denouncing a movie based on the life of sex killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

Ms. Smith alleges that Bell's sale of PimpTones and its refusal to publicly acknowledge how inappropriate they are is indicative of a deeper problem at Bell.

She notes that Bell's satellite division, Bell ExpressVu, has carried pornographic films on two adult channels that appeared to violate Canada's obscenity law and cancelled them only after an investigation by the CBC-TV program The Fifth Estate.


Click here to read the complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission


No mo ho: Bell Mobility quietly ditches PimpTones  

August 4, 2005
Glen McGregor
Ottawa Citizen

Wireless provider Bell Mobility has stopped selling a contentious series of cellphone ringtones that referred to women as "bitches" and "hoes" and offered a satirical take on the culture of prostitution.

The company removed its downloadable PimpTones ringers from its website after a Citizen report on the audio clips, which feature actors talking about "skanks" and "players" in the vernacular of the street pimp.

Like conventional musical ringtones, the PimpTones can be loaded on to Bell cellphones and programmed to sound whenever the phone rings. They use urban jargon such as "baby powder" (cocaine) and some suggested abusive behaviour, with a character named Macktastic -- "Mack" is a street word for pimp -- heard threatening slaps if the phone isn't answered, followed by a cry and a slapping sound. The clips carried titles such as No Love For Hoes, Pimp Juice, and Money, Clothes, Hoes.

Several customers contacted the Citizen, saying they were considering cancelling their service plans with Bell because of the ringtones. The company initially removed two of the more explicit PimpTones from its website, but by Monday had pulled all the remaining tones. Anyone who has already paid the $2.50 to download a clip could continue using it, however.

Bell initially insisted there was nothing wrong with its PimpTones. A spokesperson said last week that the ringtones were marketed in response to customer demand and the need for consumers to personalize their phones.

They were part of the "huge phenomenon" in pop culture, she said, citing the television program Pimp My Ride as an example of the emergence of the pimp leitmotif into the mainstream. Bell offered no explanation of why it suddenly decided to remove the PimpTones from its website. The company's media relations department did not return repeated calls requesting comment over a two-day period.


Bell Mobility's 'PimpTones' feature explicit language

 Clips suggest abusive behaviour, talk about sex trade

July 30, 2005
By Glen McGregor
CanWest News Service

OTTAWA -- Bell Mobility is selling a series of cellphone ringtones called PimpTones that make light of prostitution and refer to women as "bitches," "skanks" and "hoes."

The short messages can be downloaded from the Bell website for a $2.50 fee and programmed to sound whenever the cellphone rings.

Unlike conventional ringtones that play melodies or short clips of popular songs, the PimpTones are voice recordings of actors speaking in a street vernacular about "players" and "hoes" (whores).

Some of the explicit language in the ringtones is beeped out but can still be easily understood.

Bell pulled two of the ringtones off its website on Friday after the Ottawa Citizen called to ask why it would sell a product that seems focused, however satirically, on a profession that exploits women.

The company removed a clip entitled "No Love For Hoes," in which a receptionist is heard saying there are "skanks" and "hoes" calling on line one, and another in which a female voice says, "Money, clothes and hoes is all a player cares about."

But Bell continues to offer others in the same PimpTones series, including a clip with angry male voice saying, "Bi-(BEEP)-ch, do I look like a motherfu-(BEEP)-ing track suit?"

A track suit is urban slang for a low-class person who wears athletic gear.

"Well, no," a young female voice replies. "Well, quit sweating me, ho!" the man says.

In one clip, a young woman's voice says, "So, Mack-a-ho, your escorts for the Las Vegas Gentleman's Ball have arrived."

Mack is slang for pimp or, in verb form, means to seduce or have sex with.

Other clips use the word bitch and humorously threaten slaps or kicks if the phone isn't answered.

A Bell Canada spokesperson said the clips were offered in response to customer demand.

"We have a lot of different consumers out there who are looking for different things," said Nessa Prendergast. The motif that PimpTones use is "a huge phenomenon," in pop culture, she said. "There are mainstream TV shows and products that use that language. It's big part of the culture these days."

She cited as examples the automobile makeover show, Pimp My Ride, and the energy drink Pimp Juice, marketed by hip-hop start Nelly.

The PimpTones clips evoke stereotypes that emerged from the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, such as The Mack and SuperFly. They featured African-American pimps who dressed in garish clothes and jewelry, drove big cars and commanded stables of "hoes."

The genre has made a comeback, with a remake of 1971's Shaft released in 2000 and a new version of SuperFly in the works.

While the term pimp has lost some of its negative connotations with its heavy usage in hip-hop culture, it can still be a loaded term, says Anastasia Kuzyk, a spokesperson for the Sex Workers Association of Toronto.

"I think most people in sex work and most people out of sex work would find it offensive," she said. "You don't have to be a prostitute to be degraded by a man's words."

She said she is more concerned the mainstream culture continues to stigmatize sex workers, pointing to the portrayal of pimps and prostitutes in the video game Grand Theft Auto, in which players can machine-gun or run down prostitutes.

"Considering that I've friends (who were) murdered in this business, I'm not a great fan of that video game."

The PimpTones do suggest abusive behaviour, however humorous the intent. In one clip, an actor speaking in a deep baritone says, "You have an incoming message from Master Silk Macktastic's hand to your face," which is followed by a slapping sound and a muffled cry.

"Answer the phone, bi-(BEEP)-ch, before I come down and introduce these croc skins to your fat ass," says an angry male voice in another clip.

Croc skins refers to shoes or boots made of crocodile.

The same voice appears in clip saying "Screw this, bi-(BEEP)-ch, give me my baby powder!" -- a reference to cocaine.

Bells says it did not create the content for the PimpTones and instead acquired it from a supplier.