The National Post‘s Chris Selley, on the moral panic over allegedly anti-transgender feminist Meaghan Murphy speaking at the Toronto Public Library:
Nothing she said justified the massive crowd outside protesting the event, which forced those exiting to run a gauntlet of people yelling “shame!” or slip through a police-protected corridor. But this was the culmination of an extraordinary few weeks that saw some of the Toronto library’s staunchest supporters turn on the institution and its head librarian, Vickery Bowles, for allegedly tolerating “transphobic hate speech.”
Bowles has gamely defended the library’s commitment to free speech as an intellectual principle: “It’s so tied to the core values of library service,” she said in an interview. And she has defended it as a legal obligation, under the Charter, for a public institution to protect “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”
Both approaches have fallen on deaf ears.
For free speech purists, it might be comforting to think the protesters — perhaps 500 strong — represented a fringe group (who were themselves, after all, exercising their right to free speech). But if that’s true, it’s a well-connected fringe. Two arch-progressive city councillors, Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam, have a motion before Toronto city council on Tuesday asking staff to recommend “strengthening” the library’s room rental policies. Toronto Pride has threatened “consequences to our relationship” — presumably excommunication, which was the Vancouver Public Library’s fate after allowing Murphy to speak on its premises.
To his everlasting shame, even ostensibly conservative Mayor John Tory got in on the act.
“There are thousands of places this event could be held in Toronto other than the public library,” he said in a statement. “When it comes to public buildings, I believe we should hold ourselves to the highest standard.”
That’s completely backwards. “The library is acting as a part of government,” said Bruce Ryder, a constitutional law professor at Osgoode Hall who helped the library update its room rental policies two years ago, after a similar controversy. It thus has a higher bar to clear — not lower — if it wants to deny a booking. “If this was private space, the protection of freedom of expression wouldn’t apply,” said Ryder.
Is Murphy a hateful transphobe? Beats me. I’m no expert on the subject. But, frankly, I don’t want anyone else making that decision for me.
On Twitter, Selley further notes that Toronto’s Glad Day bookstore, famously a victim of capricious and arbitrary government censorship, is now advocating for capricious and arbitrary government censorship.
Social-media-fueled activists aren’t yet marching into libraries, seizing books they find offensive, and destroying them. Maybe they still have enough self-awareness to realize who else tends to do that kind of thing.
But give it just a few more years. If certain ideas are too offensive to be expressed in person at the library, what is the argument for allowing offensive ideas in books to remain on the shelves?