YOU OWE US AN APOLOGY
Canadian Association for Free Expression
Rexdale, Ontario, M9W 5L3
Paul Fromm, B.Ed, M.A. Director
Liz Braun, Columnist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms, Braun:
Your article “Don’t Blame Library for Hate Gathering” (Toronto Sun, July 13, 2017) is a disgrace. Of course, I agree with your conclusion that the library should not discriminate among various political or historical views.
However, you heap defamation and smears on the attendees at the Memorial for lawyer Barbara Kuazska. First, you were not there. You are relying on conjecture or, worse, the lies of mortal enemies of freedom of speech.
Your headline is a lie. The memorial was NOT a “hate” gathering. Hate, sadly is a criminal offence in this country. No one at that meeting was charged let alone convicted for anything said that night. The meeting was to celebrate the life of a brave diligent woman. It wasn’t about hating anybody.
You describe the attendees as ” pathetic anti-Semitic/anti-black/anti-female/homophobic/Islamophobic/etc. garden variety bigots” Nothing at the meeting was said criticizing Blacks, women, homosexuals or Moslems. Indeed we were honouring a woman!
As for Jews, the truth is that major Jewish lobby groups (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Friends of the Simon Weisenthal Centre, and former Canadian Jewish Congress spokesman Bernie Farber) were in the forefront of those trying to arm-twist politicians and the library into cancelling the memorial. We know many Jews support free speech but these official free speech haters give the Jewish community a bad name.
Too bad you were not there, Liz. You might have seen several coloured folks in our ranks honouring Barbara Kulazska. I suppose they were White supremacists too!
The Sun owes us an apology and its readers the truth.
CANADIAN ASSOCIATION FOR FREE EXPRESSION
Don’t Blame Library For Hate Gathering
by Liz Braun, The Toronto Sun
July 13, 2017
|Don’t blame library for hate gathering
The city is up in arms over a memorial held Wednesday for a lawyer whose name was synonymous with hate groups.
TORONTO – The city is up in arms over a memorial held Wednesday for a lawyer whose name was synonymous with hate groups.
The usual suspects — white supremacist types Paul Fromm and Marc Lemire — gathered at Richview Library in Etobicoke to honour Barbara Kulaszka, who provided counsel over the years to Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, Nazi rocket scientist Arthur Rudolph, accused war criminal Imre Finta and others of that ilk.
Kulaszka’s thing was freedom of speech cases; it is a widely held view that she was philosophically on-side with many of her clients.
At any rate, people were aghast, and rightly so, that any such meeting of hate-mongers was permitted at a branch of the library. Advocacy groups (such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) were outraged that persons with known neo-Nazi ties were allowed to book space at the library, and even the mayor waded into the controversy saying he was “deeply concerned” by the gathering.
As a result, the Toronto Public Library says they will be reviewing their policy. They did not endorse the event, a library spokesman said, but they were legally unable to get out of it.
Let’s be honest here. The person who rented this space for Kulaszka’s memorial probably had no idea who and what was involved. A group of old white people? That could be anybody in that part of Etobicoke. These pathetic anti-Semitic/anti-black/anti-female/homophobic/Islamophobic/etc. garden variety bigots could only raise 25 people to gather on behalf of Kulaszka, and far more of them codgers than boogie men.
Could we please not blame the library? The libraries in our fair city are increasingly the drop-in-centres-of-last-resort, trying to keep the world literate even as they deteriorate into ad hoc old folks’ homes, psychiatric waystations, homeless shelters and day-care alternatives. Libraries are among the few places left where those on the fringes of society may freely enter, and that’s what happened Wednesday night when a group of old nutcase hate advocates gathered to swap yarns of fear and ignorance.
As we enter a new dark ages, racism and hatred are on the rise globally, fuelled by stupidity and liberated by the anonymity of social media. And those who gathered on behalf of Kulaszka are representative of all that, but the library is not responsible.
Wayne Sumner, a University of Toronto professor emeritus specializing in ethics and freedom of expression, has already said that the library did well to err on the side of free speech. He told CP that barring such events as the memorial, “raises disturbing possibilities of picking and choosing among points of view and what sort of speech is allowed and what sort of speech is not.”
If things deteriorate into hate speech? That’s a police matter, said Sumner, not a library issue.
The library did its best by having a staff member monitor the meeting.
This led one memorial attendant — who wished to remain anonymous, as these sad-sacks always do — to complain that there was a spy in their midst.
“What kind of country are we living in?” she asked, to which a librarian might have answered, “The kind in which people know their history, particularly if it involves book burning.”
Liz Braun, Toronto Sun
Free speech is the cardinal right – the right that underpins all others. Yet how casually we brush it aside.
This week in Toronto, a small group held a memorial service at a public library branch for a lawyer who had defended Holocaust deniers and other figures on Canada’s far-right fringe. Spokesmen for Jewish groups said they were outraged that the Toronto Public Library would provide a platform for such a gathering. Mayor John Tory was “deeply concerned.” Members of city council said they were shocked. “Those tied to hate and bigotry have no place in our libraries,” Councillor James Pasternak said.
They seemed entirely oblivious to the threat to freedom of expression. If the library takes it upon itself to decide who has the right to speak, where does it end? If it denies space to a far-right group, what happens when a far-left group comes along? What would it say to the many Canadians who suffered under communism if someone who denies the crimes of Stalin or Mao wanted to hold an event and was denied? What would it say to Toronto’s large Tamil community if extreme Sinhalese nationalists were not permitted to hold a study meeting at the library about the crushing of the Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka?
It is precisely to avoid making these judgments that the library takes a neutral approach to those who book its spaces. It doesn’t demand to vet their opinions in advance. As long as they follow basic rules of conduct, they get the space. So it is absurd to suggest that the library is somehow endorsing or countenancing the views of those who held this week’s memorial.
Critics of the event seem especially upset that it took place in a “public space,” under the roof of a publicly funded institution. It is not hard to see where that dangerous argument could lead. If people whose opinions are deemed beyond the pale are to be kept out of the public libraries, why not the public parks, the public squares, the public streets? Who gives them the right, some might say, to wave their nasty placards where all can see, or publish their rank opinions where all can read? Surely public spaces are where free speech, however outrageous or obnoxious, should be allowed to flourish. That is the principle behind the famous Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, where people of every opinion and background get the chance to sound off in public. No one says that because the authorities allow it they are giving their stamp of approval to what is said.
Libraries, in particular, should be havens for free expression. They are the places citizens go to learn about the world in all its complexity. Librarians are always facing pressure from one group or another to ban books that they say might corrupt morals or spread hate. They are right to fend off such attempts. Librarians are guides to the world of knowledge, not arbiters of it. They should be equally impartial about who meets in library spaces.
Banning objectionable speech short of direct incitement to violence is always a mistake. Those who object to this week’s event and gatherings like it have other ways to respond. One is to protest. If a hate group holds a rally, hold a rally condemning hate and praising tolerance. Another is to correct. When deniers spout nonsense about how many died or didn’t die in the Holocaust, fight back with the undeniable facts.
The last option – perhaps the best when it comes to the tiny, miserable group of cranks who are Canada’s white nationalists and Holocaust deniers – is simply to turn away. They feed on publicity like this week’s fuss. Instead of fulminating against them or attacking the library for giving them space, ignore them. They don’t deserve even a minute of our time, much less all the air time and headline space they got this week.
No matter how we choose to respond to offensive opinions, it is important to remember the danger of suppressing them. Even in a blessed place such as Canada – a strong, stable democracy with a respected Charter of Rights and Freedoms – freedom of speech can be a fragile thing. We saw that just recently, when three editors left their jobs after an angry pile-on over the complicated issue of cultural appropriation.
In a 1945 essay on free speech and the profusion of it in Hyde Park, George Orwell wrote: “The relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper of the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”
On the evidence of the library affair and other events lately, public opinion in the Canada of 2017 is sluggish indeed.