Toronto Public Library – Chief Librarian’s Decision

Friends,

Many of you have contacted me about the Chief Librarian’s decision to grant space to Meghan Murphy and urged me to take action to override her decision. I won’t do that. If I did I would be misusing my office and creating a precedent that would do more harm than good for equity seeking groups.

I believe deeply in the rights of gender identity and gender expression and have been proud to use my office to support the struggle to win those rights. I will continue to work to see that those rights are respected.

I also believe that libraries are a cornerstone of a free and open democratic society and that that role rests on a broad application of the principles of free speech.

To manage the conflict that arise in cases like this the Toronto Library Board instituted a room booking policy.

The Library policy has three elements which pertain to this event. First, library staff are given a duty to review any application to see if there are human rights grounds for refusal. The City Librarian did review this application and because she had concerns she contacted City legal staff for advice. They advised her that there is no case law that would provide her grounds for refusal.

The second element of the policy gives library staff the right to monitor the event to ensure that the event does not promulgate hate; I understand that this will happen. Further, the Toronto Police service have been notified of the event. I mention this because hate speech is a criminal code offence and it is within the authority of the police to lay charges. It is not and should not be up to elected officials.

The third part of the policy is that the decision of the City Librarian is final. That is not only appropriate, but is an essential safeguard. Elected officials should never have the right to decide on a case-by-case basis who has the right to speak in a public venue. In recent years, some members of Council attempted to de-fund the Pride Parade for a variety of reasons including the presence of a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Fortunately, they did not succeed. City staff made it clear that while some were hurt and offended by the presence of this group, its presence did not constitute hate speech and was not a violation of human rights. There are many in politics who would use the power of their office to silence those they disagree with, I will never be one of them.

Governments set policies, like the room booking policy and the hate speech provisions in the criminal code. Enforcing them must remain a separate function.

This has been a difficult issue for me to work through. I hope you will consider my position and that we can continue to work together to find ways to protect and enhance gender identity and gender expression rights.

Gord