Toronto Public Library bans hate groups from renting space

The St. James Town library in Toronto. GARY J. WOOD PHOTO

The Toronto Public Library Board has banned hate groups from booking space at city libraries.

The board voted unanimously on Dec. 11 to prohibit such groups from renting library space to promote discrimination or hate.

The move followed a controversial memorial service held last July at the Richview library for a lawyer whose clients included neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Despite a public outcry, the memorial for Barbara Kulaszka went ahead, but the board said it would seek legal advice about future third-party bookings.

Books are housed at the Northern District Library in Toronto. RAYSONHO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS PHOTO

Library staff can now deny or cancel bookings they believe are “likely to promote, or would have the effect of promoting discrimination, contempt or hatred of any group, hatred for any person,” based on race, ethnicity, colour, language, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, family status, disability, political affiliation, membership in a union or staff association, level of literacy or other factors.

“Support for free speech does not translate into tolerance for hate speech,” according to the board’s 18-page report on “Community and Event Space Rental Policy.”

“The public library is a welcoming, inclusive public space that supports the social justice principles of equity and inclusion and will always stand up against hate speech to ensure the library is a welcoming and supportive place for all,” the report said.

In its presentation to the board, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said that it had reviewed the library board’s proposed policy change and supported incorporating language from the City of Toronto’s policy that prohibits the use of its facilities for the promotion of discrimination, contempt and hatred.

The Toronto Public Library’s Hillcrest branch. RAYSONHO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS PHOTO

“It is our belief that, given the Toronto Public Library’s commitment to provide a welcoming, supportive environment free from discrimination, the use of its facilities for the promotion of hatred against any person or group cannot be tolerated,” said CIJA’s Madi Murariu.

CIJA said that it values freedom of speech and expression, but believes those rights “are undermined by those who cynically use them to promote hate. The implementation of the new policy will strike the right balance between respecting legitimate freedom of expression and preventing hate.”

Libraries are publicly funded institutions, Bernie Farber, former director of the Mosaic Institute and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the board.

“Your board has an obligation to uphold our human rights codes and our Charter, which oppose hate and promote multiculturalism, fairness and diversity,” Farber stated. “Tonight I ask you to be bold, be courageous, reject hatred, embrace diversity.”

He noted that the Ottawa Public Library Board now has a policy of rejecting groups and individuals who promote hatred and divisiveness.

Hate groups, he added, may rent a private room.