City Librarian Statement on Upcoming Third-Party Room Rental Event
This past Saturday, I issued a statement with information about an upcoming third party room rental event featuring controversial speaker Meghan Murphy. Over the course of the weekend, this third-party room rental has generated significant discussion and negative feedback on social media.
I would like to take this opportunity to share additional information.
While TPL encourages public debate and discussion about differing ideas, we also encourage those with opposing or conflicting viewpoints to respectfully challenge each other’s ideas and not the library’s democratic mandate to provide space for both.
As a public library and public institution, we have an obligation to protect free speech. When Toronto Public Library (TPL) makes meeting rooms available to the public we serve, we need to make them available to all on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use. As a public institution, our primary obligation is to uphold the fundamental freedoms of freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
TPL reviews the stated purpose of each third-party room rental request to determine if it is in compliance with our Community and Event Space Rental policy and the purpose of this room rental is, “To have an educational and open discussion on the concept of gender identity and its legislation ramifications on women in Canada.” The speaker for this third-party room rental event has never been charged with or convicted of hate speech as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada. The event organizers are also contractually obligated not to violate TPL’s policy.
TPL’s policy provides TPL the right to deny or cancel a room rental if we reasonably believe the purpose of the event will promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any individual or group. However, the stated use of this room rental does not violate TPL policy.
Libraries have always been committed to supporting vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives, rather than through censorship. We are supporters of the LGBTQ2S+ community and will continue to champion this community through our programs, services and collections and offer spaces for dialogue, debate and understanding.
Below are some answers to questions you may have about this issue.
Why would TPL allow Meghan Murphy to speak? Is this hate speech?
As a public library and public institution, we have an obligation to protect free speech. The speaker for this event, Meghan Murphy, has never been charged with or convicted of hate speech as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada.
Libraries have always supported vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives, rather than through censorship. One of our core responsibilities is to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. Another is to make available our public spaces and services to individuals and groups without discrimination.
Aren’t we contravening our own policy? Section 4.4a)i of the Community and Event Space Rental policy states that “The Library reserves the right to deny or cancel a booking when it reasonably believes: i. use by any individual or group will be for a purpose that is likely to promote, or would have the effect of promoting discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person…”
We carefully reviewed the room rental request and its stated purpose “to have an educational and open discussion on the concept of gender identify and its legislation ramifications on women in Canada”. We discussed with colleagues at Vancouver Public Library where Meghan Murphy recently spoke as well as the City of Toronto’s legal counsel. Based on this review, we do not have grounds to deny or cancel the booking.
Twitter banned Megan Murphy. Why can’t TPL?
Twitter is a private company and does not have the same obligations to uphold free speech.
Isn’t TPL concerned about alienating an entire community?
We are concerned with offering a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, including members of the trans community. We are aware that the upcoming room rental event has caused anger and concern among members of the trans community and others. As a public library and public institution, we have an obligation to protect free speech. The community is asking us to censor someone because of the beliefs they hold and to restrict a group’s right to equitably access public space and we cannot do either. Doing so would also weaken our ability to protect others’ rights to the same in the future.
We are supporters of the LGBTQ2S+ community and will continue to champion this community through our programs, services and collections and offer spaces for dialogue, debate and understanding.
How is TPL responding to the petition by Toronto writers and members of the literary community who will not appear at TPL events unless the Meghan Murphy event is cancelled?
We support everybody's right to protest and voice their opinions through a petition or other means. We strongly value our relationship with Toronto's literary community and would regret any decision to boycott library events, but as a public library and public institution we have an obligation to protect free speech. We would also suggest that engaging in respectful civil discourse with people of opposing views may be a more productive strategy than abstaining from public library events. Libraries have always been committed to supporting vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives rather than through censorship.
Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University - Social Justice Requires Intellectual Freedom
Vickery Bowles on CBC As It Happens
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