Free Speech Or Hate Speech

There was a substantial protest last night outside a downtown Toronto library demonstrating against an author speaking her views on gender identity.

The event went ahead as planned, following a great deal of media attention, weeks of protest, a hefty on-line petition in opposition, and ‘no place for hate’ signs liberally taped up through the city.

Vancouver writer Meghan Murphy unapologetically promotes her opinion not to recognize the rights of transgender people. Reportedly, about a hundred people attended the event. The number of people protesting outside was far more than twice that number.

While the event has broadened conversation on transgender rights, it has shone a light on the gap between diversity and inclusion. It has also opened up a wider debate on the role, and purpose, of a pubic library.

In any city or town, libraries are traditional civil institutions dedicated to culture, history, free thought, information, and ideas. The purpose of a library, as I was raised to understand, is to encourage and advance opinion. The library is a place of learning. I have long carried a library card.

The library as I know it, in any of the cities I have lived in, is also central to the community as it hosts neighbourhood meetings, presentations and exhibits for all ages. I attended a pen and stationery show last Sunday in this city. The pen show, while not offered by the Toronto Library system, used public space within the library.

Last night’s presentation was not sponsored by the Toronto Public Library, but took place in library space. The use of this space, above the topic of the presentation, has been questioned. The mayor has publicly voiced his displeasure over the contentious event in a city library. A local councilor has said she will present a motion to council directing the city manager and solicitor to review booking rules for all public spaces.

What last night’s event does is question the difference between free speech and hate speech, and with that there are further questions we must continually ask ourselves.

When does refusing a speaker, or book, constitute censorship? When do we take opinion at face value and when do we give it more gravity than it deserves.

I’ve not read anything by Murphy. I have not bothered clicking onto her Feminist Current website. This event is actually the first I’ve heard of the opposition to her views on gender identity and apparent anti-trans stance. Last night’s protest, then, may actually be giving the author more of a platform because of the anger aimed at the Toronto Public Library system.

I have heard concerns, through the media, over the past week that some authors will no longer appear at library events. I’ve read that performers will cancel their roles in popular children’s programming because of this event. I’ve also read that trans-women will no longer feel safe in a Toronto library. I am saddened and fearful when I hear all of these examples because a library should be a safe place for all individuals and families. This is how I have always known a library.

Efforts to reduce services or withdraw participation within the library will only further harm the Toronto Public Library system. When people do not visit, or books are not lent out, and when crowds no longer gather in these magnificent spaces, it will eventually lead to budget cuts.

But this is not as much about future funding as it is the future itself.

You have to ask one major question.

When they attempt to take away an author’s right to say, or write about what they think or feel, when will they next attempt to silence you?

© 2019 j.g. lewis

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.