Events with controversial speaker Meghan Murphy at SFU Vancouver and Toronto Public Library face opposition

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      A controversial Vancouver speaker is once again sparking opposition to upcoming events about gender identity—as well as generating more public debate about what constitutes free speech and hate speech.  

      An event titled “How media bias shapes the gender identity debate” is scheduled to be held on November 2 at SFU Harbour Centre, as part of the #GIDYVR Still Talking Series.

      The event, organized by SFU anthropology professor Mark Collard, includes a panel consisting of Post Millennial writer Anna Slatz, Quillette editor Jonathan Kay, free-speech advocate Lindsay Shepherd, and Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy.

      “Canadian (and most international) media outlets almost exclusively frame the debate on gender identity ideology and legislation as irrelevant or non-existent, aside from the occasional blowout between progressives and a so-called hateful fringe of women and right-wingers,” the event description reads. “The truth is not so simple.”

      The event also states that it welcomes “persons with all viewpoints”.

      On September 25, SFU issued a statement after receiving several inquiries about the event.

      “Universities operate on the principle that freedom of expression is a core component of intellectual enquiry and central to the pursuit of knowledge,” SFU academic vice-president and provost Jon Driver stated in a news release. "As such, we support the right of faculty and other SFU community members to engage in free speech within the limits of the law.”   

      However, Driver added that their commitment to free speech does not mean an endorsement of all viewpoints.

      “SFU is deeply committed to equity, diversity and inclusion and to safeguarding the rights of our LGBTQ2+ community,” he stated. “As such, we support the right of trans community members to define their own gender identity and to be respected, within SFU and our community at large.”

      However, SFU’s gender, sexuality, and women’s studies department released a statement on the same day about the event, which it identified as one “in which participants will apparently speak against trans inclusion”.

      The department stated that it is “is profoundly disappointed by those who use the language of feminism to justify exclusion and discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression” and added that they will be sponsoring an upcoming event that will support trans people.

      A protest is being organized to be held concurrently with the event to protest Murphy.

      “SFU has claimed the defense of free speech with this event, and that the beliefs of the moderators do not represent their own,” the protest organizers state, “but by hosting this event they are providing a platform for hateful and exclusionary beliefs to be heard and normalized, enabling intolerance and the continued denial of trans identities along with other marginalized voices.”

      Previous event at Vancouver Public Library 

      Murphy’s rental of a public space at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) for a sold-out event on January 10 sparked controversy.

      The VPL stated that although it does not agree with Murphy’s views, it permitted the event to proceed due to its commitment to free speech and intellectual freedom. In response, protests and counter-events were held.

      As a result of Murphy’s speaking engagement at the library being held, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) rejected the VPL’s application to participate in the 2019 Vancouver Pride parade as the VPS deemed the Murphy to be a “transphobic speaker”.

      The VPL has since reviewed its booking policy and updated it on September 25.

      The policy includes a pre-screening and risk assessment that will help the library to prevent activities that involve hate speech or violations of the Canadian Criminal Code or the B.C. Human Rights Code.  

      Toronto Public Library to hold event

      The Toronto Public Library (TPL) is facing a similar situation, as Murphy is slated to be a part of a panel discussion entitled “Gender Identity: What Does It Mean For Society, The Law, and Women” on October 29 at the library.  

      TPL city librarian Vickery Bowles released statements on October 12 and 15 to explain that the institution has an obligation to free speech and that intellectual freedom is among their core values.

      “When Toronto Public Library (TPL) makes meeting rooms available to the public we serve, we need to make them available to all on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use,” Bowles stated. “As a public institution, our primary obligation is to uphold the fundamental freedoms of freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

      Bowles also explained that the TPL has the right to cancel an event if they believe it will promote discrimination or hate.

      “However, the stated use of this room rental does not violate TPL policy,” Bowles stated, adding that the speaker for the event has “never been charged with or convicted of hate speech as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada”.

      Nonetheless, Pride Toronto’s board of directors issued a public statement on October 18 to express their opposition to the event and warned that there will be consequences in their relationship with the library if the TPL allows the event to proceed.

      Toronto and Ontario writers have also launched a petition to boycott the library unless the event is cancelled. 

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.