Proposed Vancouver Public Library rental policy affirms commitment to intellectual freedom

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      Some views may offend any number of people.

      Certain opinions may not sit well with some.

      But as long as these do not constitute discrimination or hate speech, there should be no reason to restrict their expression.

      This reasoning underpins a draft policy regarding the rental of public meeting rooms at the Vancouver Public Library.

      “The Library’s values include diversity, respectful spaces, intellectual freedom and access for all,” according to the draft, which is scheduled for a vote by the VPL board on Wednesday (September 25).

      It can be recalled that the VPL was banned from the August 4, 2019 Pride parade because a controversial speaker held an event at its central branch.

      That speaker was Meghan Murphy, a feminist writer who does not adhere to views that support transgender people.

      As an example, Murphy does not believe that individuals born biologically as men can become women.

      “The Library believes that freedom of expression and access to ideas and information are essential to the health and development of a democratic society,” according to the draft policy. “We acknowledge that the Library’s spaces may be used by those who express ideas that may be contrary to the Library’s vision and values.

      “By offering Library spaces for short-term rental by the public, the Library does not endorse or agree with any of the aims, policies or activities of any group or individual using the space, or of any of the ideas, messages or information they express,” the draft continues.

      The draft notes that there are also “necessary limits to how Library spaces may be used”.

      “The use of Library spaces must not contravene Canadian laws, including the Criminal Code and the BC Human Rights Code,” according to the document.

      It goes on to state that the public library “recognizes that individuals and groups may strongly disagree with ideas and views expressed within Library spaces and collections”.

      “In some instances they may, on a personal level, view them as offensive or harmful,” the draft notes. “However, in keeping with its value of intellectual freedom, the Library will not restrict freedom of expression beyond the limits prescribed by Canadian law.”

      Chief librarian Christina de Castell submitted a report to the board, which had the draft policy as an attachment.

      “Many groups and individuals would like the Library Board to implement a policy that restricts freedom of expression more than the current law in British Columbia, by denying rental to groups that have a history of promoting discrimination, or a history of using speech that does not meet the legal threshold of hate, but has the risk of harm to groups that are historically or currently marginalized,” de Castell wrote.

      According to de Castell, the public library will seek guidance from the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner about “expectations for protection of human rights for equity-seeking groups within public space use, and is discussing additional legal advice on implementation of the policy with the support of the City of Vancouver”.

      De Castell also said that the library has adopted a pre-rental screening and assessment process in order to “limit the likelihood that hate speech, as defined by law, will take place on Library premises”.

      “Event rentals on many topics can conflict with VPL’s values and strategic initiatives, affecting VPL’s reputation, reducing the Library’s ability to deliver programs, and impacting perceptions of VPL as a safe and welcoming space,” de Castell stated.

      “At the same time, the public library has long been a place to explore ideas, and commitment to intellectual freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental values of public libraries and are bedrock values for democratic society,” the chief librarian continued.