Free speech advocate and long-time Vancouver library employee Brian Campbell dies

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      A pioneering activist and former Vancouver Public Library staff member has died.

      Brian Campbell passed away shortly after Christmas from lung cancer after spending his adult life trying to improve the lives of average people around the world.

      When he retired in 2006 as the Vancouver Public Library's director of systems and special projects, Campbell had distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate for freedom of information and expanding Internet access. He also advocated for the VPL engaging in an evidence-based public education program about drug addiction.

      In 2015, the Canadian Library Association awarded Campbell with its Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada Award.

      At the time, Campbell told the Vancouver Sun that his proudest achievement as a librarian came in the work that the VPL did in convincing libraries "to make free public Internet accessible across Canada".

      "It was the single thing that enhanced people’s ability to access information broadly, and it also made people familiar with the Internet and its many uses for getting information," he said.

      Nearly 20 years earlier, in 1996, Campbell played a key role in the VPL launching its website through 29 computer terminals in the central branch. It enabled people to browse the web using Netscape Navigator. 

      Campbell was also a founding member and chair of the B.C Civil Liberties Association's intellectual freedom and information policy committees. In addition, he was a founding member of Vancouver FreeNet (later known as Vancouver Community Network).

      In an online tribute, North Vancouver District director of library services Jacqueline van Dyk wrote that even in retirement, Campbell "never lost his passion for the important democratic role that libraries can play in shaping communities and protecting the public interest".

      "Certainly, the library world is richer for his significant contributions," she noted. "He helped shape my career, just as he has helped hundreds of others, directly or indirectly."

      Following his retirement, Campbell focused a great deal of attention on the Middle East, arguing against efforts to stigmatize criticism for the state of Israel's actions as being anti-Semitic. 

      He cofounded the Seriously Free Speech Committee, which advocates for the free expression of views about issues relating to Israel and Palestine.

      Yesterday, the committee issued a statement praising Campbell for "fighting the passage of Bill C-51, Canada’s draconian anti-terrorism law passed by the Harper government and urging its repeal by the Trudeau Liberals; organising against the threat free speech from federal and provincial resolutions condemning BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign calling on Israel to abide by international law) supporters; calling for the reinstatement of fired University of Illinois professor Steven Salaita for tweets expressing his anger over Israel’s brutal bombing of Gaza; and fighting efforts to criminalize opposition to Israel’s policies and actions, including the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, New York’s threat to cut off funding to public bodies that divest from Israel or France’s anti-BDS law that has put supporters in jail".

      Campbell is also being remembered fondly by Independent Jewish Voices, which has often criticized Israel for its military actions in Gaza and the Occupied Territories.

      "Brian moved from committed Christianity in his youth to a wider understanding of spirituality, a perspective that informed his social and political activity," Independent Jewish Voices said in a statement. "His was a wise and inspiring presence to everyone who knew him. We knew he was ill, but all of us hoped that he would be struggling alongside us for much longer in the quest for social justice. Independent Jewish Voices (Vancouver) extends our deepest condolences to his wife Gillian and his family. He will be sorely missed."

      Update: The B.C. Library Association has posted 12 tributes to Brian Campbell on its website, including one from Vancouver chief librarian Sandra Singh.