Statement from Toronto City Librarian Vickery Bowles
July 13, 2017
The Toronto Public Library (TPL) today released a statement from City Librarian Vickery Bowles on the use of the Richview Library for a memorial for Barbara Kulaszka, a lawyer known for her work with far right causes and free speech cases:
I’d like to address the issue about last evening’s private room booking event at Richview Library, which has received tremendous attention. It has been a difficult situation, but one that we’ve been guided through by our library values.
First, a little bit of background. This event was booked as a third-party rental booking approximately three weeks ago. We learned on Tuesday that it was to be a memorial for Barbara Kulaszka, a lawyer known for her work with far right causes and free speech cases. As word got out, we received hundreds of emails, phone calls and social media messages calling for us to cancel the booking. The general theme was that people felt that by upholding the booking we were endorsing the views of the individuals that were organizing the meeting, individuals who have extreme white nationalist views.
We heard and understood these concerns, and assessed the situation from a legal, library and public perspective. As you know, we do not tolerate hate speech. However, we cannot deny bookings that are in accordance with the law and the library’s policy and rules of conduct.
To deny access on the basis of the views or opinions that individuals or groups hold contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the principles of intellectual freedom, both cornerstones of the library’s mission and values. Sometimes in defending freedom of speech, it’s very uncomfortable to be put in a situation where we are defending the rights of those whose viewpoints many consider to be offensive. However, it is at those times that we must be vigilant in protecting the rights of all.
We were prepared to take immediate action should the group have acted in a manner that was not consistent with the law or our rules of conduct. We had a staff member attend the event to monitor it to ensure no laws or rules of conduct were contravened. We had a protocol in place to shut down the meeting if there was any hate speech. About 20 people attended the memorial service and staff talked to the organizers in advance of the meeting to reiterate our expectations. The group did not violate any laws or rules, and had a memorial service as originally indicated.
The Mayor has asked us in a statement to review our room booking policy, which we will do at an upcoming Toronto Public Library Board meeting this fall. These are open meetings and everyone is welcome to attend.
I strongly believe the right decision was made to allow the memorial to proceed. In making this decision we had to find a way for the Library to ensure the group’s legal rights to gather and to free speech while protecting against discrimination, harassment and hate speech.
As difficult as this situation has been, it is also a strong reminder of public library values.
I thank everyone who has contacted us about this situation, and appreciate and respect your right to protest and voice your opinions. That’s what a democracy is all about.