Toronto Library Board Gives Free Speech a Kick in the Groin
Paul Fromm addressing Toronto Library Board
Canadian Association for Free Expression
Rexdale, Ontario, M9W
Frederick Paul Fromm, B.Ed, M.A. Director
Presentation to the Toronto Library Board by Frederick Paul Fromm – December 11, 2017
1. The Toronto Library Board is considering revisions to its Community and Event Space Rental Policy What concerns us are changes to the Denial of Use Section of the Policy.
“The Purpose section has been revised to add language about the Library’s objectives of providing equitable access to services and maintaining a welcoming supportive environment free from discrimination and harassment.
· The Denial of Use sections 4.4 (a) and 5.4(a) both state much more strongly that room bookings will be denied or cancelled when the Library reasonably believes the purpose of the booking is likely to promote, or would have the effect of promoting, discrimination, contempt or hatred of any group, hatred for any person on the basis of race, ethnic origin, place of origin, citizenship, colour, ancestry, language, creed (religion), age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, membership in a union or staff association, receipt of public assistance, level of literacy or any other similar factor.
· Under the same Denial of Use sections 4.4(b) and 5.4(b), violations of the Criminal Code of Canada (including hate propaganda laws) and the Ontario Human Rights Code are specifically referenced as unacceptable.”
2. First, the Toronto Public Library is not a private club. It belongs to all citizens and should be open to use, including rental of rooms for meetings, to all citizens, without discrimination, if for no other reason than all taxpayers pay for it.
3. It is fair to ask persons renting facilities to be aware that they must obey the law, including the Criminal Code and various bylaws. Thus, for instance, a smokers’ rights group should be able to rent a room for a meeting, but, if they announced, they would stage a smoke-in to dramatize their views, it would make sense to deny the booking.
4. People renting Library facilities must be responsible to their own words and actions. Staff should not have to try to guess what their words or actions might be.
5. In renting meeting space, the Library is not condoning or supporting any point of view, any more than having a book on the shelves means the library endorses the book’s conclusions. Clearly, the library contains many books with wildly different views on a given subject.
6. The revised policy is saddling staff with an impossible task — to decide, in advance, of an event, what will be said at that event and whether words that haven’t yet been uttered are “likely to promote, or would have the effect of promoting, discrimination, contempt or hatred of any group, hatred for any person on the basis of race, ethnic origin, place of origin, citizenship, colour, ancestry, language, creed (religion), age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, membership in a union or staff association, receipt of public assistance, level of literacy or any other similar factor.”
* “Promotion of hatred” is a bogeyman. No person or group who has rented Toronto Public Library facilities has, to our knowledge, ever been charged or convicted of “hate”; that is, Section 319 of the Criminal Code. This is a restrictive policy seeking to solve a problem that does not exist.
* But, it’s not just “hatred” but contempt that is being prohibited. “Contempt” is a very broad term, meaning dislike of a negative opinion of. It is hard to see how any criticism based on “race, religion, gender orientation or political affiliation or any of the other mentioned grounds” could pass muster. Suppose someone wrote a book entitled Mike Harris 20 Years Later. If the book repeated some of the common criticisms of the time — that Mike Harris balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and squeezed the education system — and if the author were to speak about his book at a meeting, might is not be likely that the meeting would promote contempt of Mr. Harris because of his political affiliation and, therefore, should be cancelled?
* “Contempt” was included in the Sec. 13 (Internet censorship) of the Canadian Human Rights Act but was repealed by Parliament in 2013. It is overly broad and basically chills any criticism on a whole range of topics.
* One wonders what “any other similar factor” might be.
7. This policy could lead to the banning of all sorts of meetings dealing with contentious topics. It is an affront to free speech, especially as it involves subjective “prior restraint” which is a violation of Canadians’ basic right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
7. This policy is a reaction to an organized campaign by censorship minded groups and individuals who protested a memorial to a lawyer who represented controversial clients. these groups took the view that, because they disagreed with Barbara Kulazska’s clients, her friends and admirers should not be allowed to meet to remember her. The Library did the right thing in permitting that memorial to proceed.
8. In October, C-FAR Books sought to book a meeting for a talk by Victor Fletcher, editor and publisher of Toronto Street News. We were turned down on October 3 and informed: “ Given the history of the individual and group involved in the booking and the publication being discussed, Library staff believe that the booking could lead to a violation of hate speech legislation.” This decision was unreasonable and outrageous. Neither the individual or group involved in the booking or Mr. Fletcher or Toronto Street News has ever been charged, let alone convicted under Sec. 319. We fear that this censorship is a harbinger of what will happen should the Board adopt this new policy.
9. We fear the hecklers’ veto. If an organized lobby makes enough noise in trying to shut down a meeting of people they don’t like, the new policy is so broad that it gives staff the power to shut down any gathering more controversial than the Rosedale Orchid Society.
10. The policy contains no independent appeals process against the denial of a room booking. This is especially important as staff decisions may be made only on the basis of accusations or allegations made by groups or individuals seeking to get a meeting cancelled.
10. May we suggest a truly inclusive, open door policy. Any person or group, who is a taxpayer, should be able to rent a meeting room, if available. They are made aware that they are responsible for their own conduct and for obeying all relevant laws. The community should be informed that the library follows a free speech policy. Meetings will not be cancelled because the speakers or topics are controversial.
11. The proposed policy will not buy peace but will embolden those who have no tolerance for views critical of their own group or ideology to try to shut down groups or speakers to whom they object.