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Canadian hip-hop border: Hopsin, A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown all barred from performing in Canada
Hopsin, A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown

Articles & Reviews

Border Issues: A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, Hopsin denied entry into Canada

The ‘Canadian hip-hop border‘ seems to be in full effect. Or at least some people believe there is an increase in American rappers being barred from touring the country.

Canadian concert goers have had a particularly rough week and they’ve taken to Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustrations about the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Undisclosed border issues have robbed Canada of live performances by some rising hip-hop stars including A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown and Hopsin. They join a long list of American rap artists who have either been detained or turned away while attempting to cross into Canada.

A$AP Rocky is one of the hottest young artists out right now and his Canadian fan base is quite large. This was proven by the response he received from a January performance at Toronto’s Opera House and an appearance at Drake’s OVO Fest this past August. He also played several other Canadian dates including Ottawa’s infamous Bluesfest, Ottawa’s Ritual Nightclub and Montreal’s Corona Theatre. He’s had a packed audience each time and left the country without incident.

So why would we suddenly turn away his Long Live A$AP Tour after already allowing him in the country?

Canadian Hip-Hop Border

A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q were denied entry into Montreal on Sept. 30 and again yesterday, Oct. 2 on route to Toronto.

Did something occur during previous Canadian tour dates that was concerning to CBSA? Was it the pending 2nd degree robbery charge Rocky pled not guilty to this past July? A charge like that might be enough for a border agent to turn someone away, especially if they had prior convictions, but plenty of entertainers with similar (or worse) charges have entered our country and left without any issue. And this is where the anger often stems from: the argument that CBSA is either racist and/or profiling/targeting hip-hop. The general feeling is that other forms of entertainment are treated more leniently when it comes to border crossings. There are always exceptions but people don’t seem to hear about them nearly as often.

This isn’t the first time Q has had a problem getting into Canada. He was denied entry back in July as he was joining Kendrick Lamar on the Under The Influence of Music Tour. Footage of the border issue was included in Top Dawg Entertainment’s Under The Influence of Music (Episode 1):

Ultimately, the decision at the border robbed fans of Q, A$AP Rocky, the A$AP Mob and Danny Brown. Rocky took to Twitter to announce that the show would be postponed. The last Canadian date on the Tour is Vancouver on Oct. 20th at The Vogue. It remains to be seen if the show will be cancelled or postponed.

Later that day, Tuesday, LA’s Hopsin was also turned away at the border. Hop was on his way to Toronto for a highly anticipated concert at The Opera House with Dizzy Wright and SwizZz. Early Tuesday, Hop had tweeted about looking forward to finally performing in the city with his Funk Volume family. By early evening he retweeted a barrage of messages from angry fans that had waited patiently for the chance to see the young MC live. Unfortunately some fans didn’t get word of the cancellation until they had already reached the venue.

This wouldn’t be the first time that the Canadian border patrol has played a role in cancelling a hip-hop show. Waka Flocka Flame was denied entry last October and Game was denied entry, again, in April 2011. Those come to mind quickly but the list is much longer. You’ll even find 50 Cent on there. Fif’s had border issues and campaigns backed by politicians that attempted to ban him from Toronto.

Paperwork & the Canadian hip-hop border

A big part of it can come down to the concert promoter making sure the paperwork is all in order. Work permits and claims being overlooked could give a border agent reason to deny entry. But at the same time, having your paperwork right doesn’t always ensure success either. People have been turned away or detained despite having the paperwork in order. People with priors have also made it through to perform without any paperwork at all. I’ve witnessed it first hand.

All that being said, with a bit of digging you can find some examples of other genres being hit, just not as often. This past June, The Used cancelled all Canadian dates on their North American tour after frontman Bert McCracken was denied entry due to his criminal record. And CBSA doesn’t take small things lightly. Although it is unclear if this was the reason MCracken was denied, he was told he wouldn’t be able to enter the country for 10 years due to trespassing misdemeanors from 10 years ago:

When I say criminal record, I’m talking teensy, eensy misdemeanors they still have on my record from, like, 2001 and 2003 – trespassing.

Had Bret been allowed to enter Canada, the most likely scenario is he would have performed and then left without any issues. The fans benefit, the economy benefits (if even just a bit), and everyone’s happy.

Personally, I don’t think a misdemeanor charge like trespassing, if no one was hurt, warrants a foreigner being barred from our country at all, let alone a decade later. I myself was once almost charged with trespassing when I was younger for something as harmless as playing basketball on school grounds during the summer. It’s almost laughable to think that an incident like that could have potentially barred me from travelling years later, or at least hindered my attempts… but it happens daily.

Rules are upheld inconsistently at the border

Rules are rules, that can certainly be respected. But the respect dwindles away when the rules are upheld inconsistently or with bias.

The Toronto International Film Festival was a huge success again this year. One of the many celebrities in attendance was Hugh Grant, who, much like A$AP Rocky, had a physical altercation with paparazzi. The charge was dropped June 1, 2007 due to insufficient evidence but it wasn’t Grant’s first run in with the law. Grant had no problem getting into the country, nor did a few other celebrities in attendance who had criminal records. Realistically, considering what they were coming to town for, not one of them posed a threat to our country and CBSA should be applauded for giving them access. An event like TIFF is big for Toronto’s economy and tourism, and the names are a large part of the draw. But it does come across a bit inconsistent.

Linsday Lohan has had various legal issues – recent legal issues – but has no problem scoring work permits to shoot movies in Toronto. Again, Lohan’s presence in Toronto is likely not threatening to anyone’s well-being – unless she’s driving — so I have no problem with her being allowed in our country. But do professional rappers always get the same treatment or consideration? Many people will give you a definitive ‘no’ out of anger or frustration but their anwers are mostly based on speculation. There’s always a need for evidence.

$900-million dollar lawsuit challenged Canada’s border policies

Canada’s border practices have already been challenged legally by at least one rapper. Back in 2007, Detroit MC and record label owner Jerome Almon launched a lawsuit against Canadian immigration officials for alleged racial profiling. Almon had been detained 117 of 120 times crossing into Canada. Almon also claimed that Canadian officials drew up Bills C-254 and C-95, in an attempt to ban all US rappers and their CDs from Canada by categorizing hip-hop as hate speech. Needless to say, if that is true, the bills certainly didn’t go far.

His interview with CBC summarized the lawsuit quite clearly:

My complaint is rather simple. I’m alleging that Canada Customs and Immigration are barring me from entering Canada to conduct business because I’m a black rapper from Detroit.

A call was made Tuesday to CBSA for comment on the recent incidents but the call was not returned. This quote from Almon sheds a bit of light on what types of arguments are being put forward to deny or delay a rapper’s entry:

Their claim is that I have not turned in a police clearance to enter Canada as required by Canada Immigration and that I have a criminal record.

But several articles I read had already indicated he did not have a criminal record.

So despite not having a criminal record, Almon was hassled on 117 of 120 occasions as he attempted to conduct business and record music in both Ottawa and Toronto. Again we see inconsistencies from one person to the next. One can only hope that Almon would have been treated the same way if his skin had been white or if his profession was something with less negativity associated to it. But only the people making the decisions know why those decisions are made.

No one is going to blatantly say “I’m a bit of a racist so I tend to give black people a harder time at the border than white people.” I suspect that would be a quick way out of a job at CBSA. But CBSA should still be accountable for making sure they don’t employ people with that type of mentality.

CBSA & The integrity questionnaire

It seems they’re trying to do that. The Globe and Mail published a story Monday about CBSA’s decision to ask its employees to take a voluntary “integrity questionnaire” which essentially asks people to come clean about how evil they are. This is almost unheard of in Canadian civil and public service but the keyword seems to be voluntary. Again, and not speaking from experience, but if I had committed a crime and was attempting to avoid prosecution, I wouldn’t come clean and give myself up on a questionnaire. That seems a bit dumb. But hopefully there is a section in the 23-page document that deals with the issue at hand: are people making decisions based on race and culture?

It is unclear if Hopsin has any immediate plans to set a new Toronto date but a source close to A$AP Rocky has confirmed he’ll likely be able to cross the border soon.

Check out some angry tweets below.

And my personal favourite…

Written by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada

Jesse founded in 1999 and is currently the organization's Co-President & Editor-in-Chief.

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