Left-wing councillors on different sides of debate over controversial event with Meghan Murphy

Left-wing councillors on different sides of debate over controversial event with Meghan Murphy

The city needs stronger policies to govern the use of community spaces, according to two leading city councillors who plan to raise the issue at the next council meeting.

Their motion directly targets the Toronto Public Library and the board, which voted this week not to back down from allowing feminist Meghan Murphy, who holds controversial views on transgender issues, to speak at Palmerston Library Theatre.

The issue appears to have pitted left-wing councillor against left-wing councillor: the motion was drafted by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) and Mike Layton (Ward 11 University Rosedale).

Left-wing councillor Coun. Gordon Perks meanwhile, thinks Murphy should be allowed to speak at the library.

“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,” wrote Perks on his website gordperks.ca.

“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 equality 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.”

Mayor John Tory meanwhile, a former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, has voiced his disappointment with the library’s position, saying officials should use the “highest of standards” to ensure that public buildings not become a place where “offensive commentary” is permitted.

The motion from Wong-Tam and Layton recommends that policies governing the use of community spaces at the Toronto Public Library and other city facilities be strengthened in order to proactively ensure that groups contravening the city of Toronto’s Vision Statement on Access, Equity and Diversity and its Human Rights and Anti-Harassment/Discrimination policy are identified sooner and that permits are denied or revoked in a timely manner.

It recommends that city council convene a meeting with the city manager, city solicitor and others to consult with Toronto Public Library staff with a view to ensuring that “activities enabling discrimination and intolerance, including transphobia and transphobic activity, are given all due consideration as a human rights violation under the Human Rights Code.”

The library did review the Murphy application to see if there were human rights grounds for refusal. It referred the matter to a city lawyer who concluded that they had no grounds to bar Murphy.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said that the law sets a high threshold for what constitutes promotion of hatred under the Criminal Code.

The topic of Murphy’s lecture is: “Gender Identity: What does it mean for society, the law and women?”

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She is scheduled to speak on Oct. 29.

Critics have labelled Murphy as anti-trans because she has said that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete against women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth in sporting events, or use women’s change rooms.

Francine Kopun

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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