Mayor John Tory is joining the library workers union, some authors and transgender rights advocates in urging — so far unsuccessfully — Toronto’s chief librarian to cancel a “gender identity” speech in rented library space.
After his office issued a statement saying he is “disappointed” in Toronto Public Library’s decision to allow the Oct. 29 speech by feminist writer Meghan Murphy, Tory told reporters officials should use the “highest of standards” to ensure “offensive commentary” is not hosted in public buildings.
Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is scheduled to speak at the Palmerston Library Theatre on Oct. 29 on the topic “Gender Identity: What does it mean for society, the law and women?”
Murphy believes trans women should not be allowed to compete in sporting events against cisgender women (women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) or use women’s change rooms.
“Male bodies, regardless of gender identity, are different than female bodies,” Murphy told the Star earlier this week, saying she has never engaged in hate speech against transgender people.
Local authors including Catherine Hernandez and Michael Redhill have threatened a boycott of Toronto Public Library events if Murphy is welcomed to spread her views on library property.
“Using ‘freedom of speech’ to disseminate transphobic rhetoric is unacceptable,” Hernandez said.
Tory said deciding free speech issues is extremely difficult but he draws the line at “offensive commentary that is going to cause harm and cause hurt to others in the community.”
“We’re trying to set an example in a world that is increasingly polarized that we should set that example and not use public buildings in ways that are divisive,” Tory said, adding that he respects of the independence of library staff and its board of governors and will not try to force a change.
Vickery Bowles, Toronto’s chief librarian, says the stated purpose of the room rental for Murphy’s talk does not violate a policy that permits refusal of events if she reasonably believes “the purpose of the event will promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any individual or group.”
“As a public library and public institution, we have an obligation to protect free speech,” Bowles said in a statement, noting Murphy has never been charged with hate speech under the Criminal Code.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association backs that view, warning of a “slippery slope” in banning speakers and arguing such rentals should be approved as long as no illegal activity will take place.
Bowles’ own library staff, however, strongly oppose her decision in a letter to the library board, calling Murphy’s description of her talk “disingenuous, to say the least.”
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“Her views do, in fact, target highly vulnerable and marginalized communities not only in our workplace, but among library users in Toronto and beyond,” the Toronto Public Library Workers Union wrote.
“The work that staff have done to reach out to community members, and to build trust and partnerships, has now been compromised to some extent by this decision. For many, the library might no longer represent a safe and inclusive space.”