Toronto library staff can now refuse event bookings 'likely' to promote hate

Toronto Library staff can now deny groups the option to rent out library space if they are "likely" to promote discrimination or hate, after recommendations by the city library passed unanimously at a board meeting Monday night.

City librarian says decisions will be based on the purpose of the booking, not on who is booking

Police were notified of the board meeting at the Toronto Reference Library 'as a precaution,' library spokesperson Ana-Maria Crtichley told CBC Toronto ahead of the meeting. (CBC)

Toronto Library staff can now refuse to rent space to events they deem "likely" to promote discrimination or hate.

The new powers come after recommendations by library staff passed unanimously at a board meeting Monday night. 

Four members of the public spoke to a packed room on the policy, including the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber. 

Farber said libraries were always a safe haven to him growing up as a young Jewish boy subject to racism in his hometown of Ottawa.
 
"It was a beautiful place to get lost in wonderland and pirates and never have to worry about the bullying," he said in an interview. "I want Toronto to remain that safe space for children in the future. 

Self-proclaimed white supremacist Paul Fromm also made an appearance at the meeting, the only deputant to speak against the recommendations. 

The Toronto library board passed a booking policy barring groups 'likely' to promote hate Monday night (Bernie Farber/Facebook)

"You're wrestling with the results of protest by people in the community who don't particularly like free speech," he told the library board. 

He argued that he is unaware of any cases in which anyone was convicted of hate speech in a library in Canada and thus concludes that the new policy was a "non-issue." 

Fromm was a vocal supporter of a controversial memorial for Barbara Kulaszka held at the Richview library; the very same event which prompted the public library to review their policies. 

Kulaszka was a librarian turned lawyer who once represented renowned white supremacists, including Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel and Marc Lemire, leader of the Heritage Front.

However, Vickery Bowles, the city librarian, says even under these new policies, the memorial still may have been allowed.

"We are not going to block individuals or groups from booking library space but we will continue making our booking decisions based on the purpose of the booking," she said.

"There was no reason to believe there was going to be hate or discrimination at that meeting. We had someone monitor that room booking to make sure that didn't happen and it didn't. There were about 20 people attending and there was no incident," she explained. 

Any appeal about booking decisions is would go to Bowles and her decision is final.