Vickery Bowles: “I am committed, and the library is committed, to offering safe and welcoming space for everyone, including members of the trans community.
But as a public library and as a public institution, we have an obligation to stand up for our democratic values and principles, and that free speech is something that protects everyone.
But it really — and I really need to emphasize this — it really protects the marginalized voices in our society. And if it wasn’t for free speech, those marginalized voices would not be heard.
But you also have within your policy that the library reserves right to deny or cancel a booking “that is likely to promote, would have the effect of promoting discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person.” Do you think that that is not what was happening here?
There is a very high bar for establishing what is hate speech in this country. It is established in the Criminal Code of Canada, and that bar is very high to allow free speech to flourish.
You think someone has to be charged criminally before you would not allow them to speak in your facilities?
We use the same principles in making decisions about room bookings as we do for our collections, Carol. We have a broad diversity of information and ideas and perspectives that are represented in all the books in our collections, and some of those ideas and perspectives people would find hurtful and painful.
But we’re not going to remove those books from our collection. And we are not going to eliminate programs from our branches that are controversial. And we’re not going to shut down room bookings because the speaker in the room booking has controversial ideas.”