Edmonton library board member forced to resign following tweets

A former Edmonton Public Library board member claims she was asked to resign after sending out a tweet inviting the public to meetings in November and calling out library CEO Pilar Martinez for posting an article she believed was “quite transphobic."

Jill Scheyk was asked to resign after tweets and an email she sent to EPL CEO Pilar Martinez

Jill Scheyk resigned Monday from the board of the Edmonton Public Library. (Tyler Balser)

A former Edmonton Public Library board member says she was asked to resign after calling out the library's CEO last fall for posting an article she believed was "quite transphobic."

Jill Scheyk handed in her resignation letter on Monday.

The chain of events that led to the resignation began in late October, when library CEO Pilar Martinez posted a National Post opinion column on her personal Twitter account.

The column praised Vickery Bowles, head librarian for the Toronto Public Library, for standing up for free speech after the library allowed Meghan Murphy, founder of the Feminist Current website, to give a lecture at a library branch. 

Toronto's LGBTQ community had asked for the event to be cancelled, but library officials stood firm, saying Murphy's appearance didn't violate its policy on renting space for community events.

Murphy is opposed to gender-identity legislation, and on the night of her speech in October hundreds protested outside the library where the event was held.

Scheyk confronted Martinez in an email, asking the CEO to apologize for posting the article.

"I had written an email privately to Pilar [Martinez] and the rest of the board members, you know, kind of framing this as, 'I'm sure you didn't intend it this way but this is actually some really transphobic language, and I think this is pretty offensive to people in the community and I think we really owe them an apology,'" she said.

She said she was later told about a blog entry Martinez had posted on Nov. 1 on the EPL website, defending free speech. 

"Controversial or even offensive speech does not equal hate speech," Martinez wrote in the post. "Censorship is a double-edged sword — while it may support your personal views today, it may be used to censor your views tomorrow."

Scheyk, who works in marketing and had been an EPL board member since May 2015, said she was disappointed at the post.

She said she decided to write a tweet inviting the public to come to board meetings in response to the blog post. 

"I just kind of tweeted without really referencing the issue because I didn't want to stir any additional reaction," she said. "Just to say, 'You know, if you have feelings about what we're doing here at the library, our board meetings are open to the public.' "

A Nov. 12 letter from the board to Scheyk referred to her behaviour as a breach of the EPL's trustee code of conduct. It said if she couldn't meet expectations "it may be that the duty of the trustee is to resign."

The letter said Scheyk's Twitter activity "provided a catalyst for anonymous and extremely disrespectful input towards our CEO and EPL in general.

"Your email to the CEO and copied to the board on Oct. 31, 2019, encouraging an apology from our CEO to particular community members was without awareness or input from the board."

After an exchange of emails and letters, Scheyk decided to hand in her resignation. 

Fern Snart, chair of EPL board of trustees, said in an emailed statement the board can't comment on the specific details because the resignation was an internal and confidential governance matter.

"I can assure you that the EPL board of trustees is focused on acting in the best interest of Edmontonians and the library, and we welcome diverse views and healthy debate around the board table – in fact, it is what makes EPL great."

Scheyk said she hopes that after Tuesday's discussion the library comes up with solid next steps, such as a working group to make the library a welcoming place.

"It was good to finally be able to voice my concerns out loud," Scheyk told CBC News on Tuesday. "You're under a gag order as a trustee or employee. I actually feel like I have more impact now than I could have as a trustee.

"If I had to put myself here to drive interest in engaging with the community, that's a consequence I can live with."


Kashmala Fida is a reporter and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.