OTTAWA—Canada’s highest court has refused to hear arguments on whether the word “Kemosabe”—a term used in The Lone Ranger TV series—is a racial slur.
Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Commission had turned to the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify the use of the word in the workplace after a woman filed a complaint.
Dorothy Kateri Moore complained to the commission in 1999, saying her boss and a co-worker at Play it Again Sports in Sydney discriminated against her by calling her Kemosabe.
The term was the name Tonto gave the Lone Ranger on the 1950s TV show.
The commission appointed a board of inquiry to look into the complaint. In February 2004, the board ruled that Moore hadn’t clearly shown she was offended by the remark so discrimination didn’t take place.
The commission argued that the board of inquiry erred in placing an undue burden on Moore to prove she found the term offensive, and appealed the ruling to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
The three-member appeal court panel upheld the board’s decision, writing that Moore had not shown the word was “notoriously offensive.”
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission spent an entire day watching The Lone Ranger in 2003 to decide whether being called kemosabe was demeaning.
But the commission appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, hoping it would clarify what the term “notoriously offensive” meant.
“We’re disappointed,” Mayann Francis, chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, said in a release. “We thought this case might help establish clearer guidelines for dealing with discrimination and the cultural differences one finds in a diverse workplace.”
“This is about much more than the use of one word. It’s about establishing standards that are clear to employers and to employees, standards that protect and encourage diversity,” Francis said.
Ann Smith, a lawyer for the human rights commission, said that “people need to understand what that phrase means in order to determine what is or is not considered acceptable behaviour in the workplace.”
“What I consider ‘notoriously offensive’ you may not. We wanted some legal standard that would help people,” she said.
Since the highest court in Canada will not hear the appeal, she added, the commission will look for other ways to clarify the parameters.