Kingston library's code of conduct an attack on homeless, advocates charge

Kingston's library board said it would hold off implementing a new code conduct for visitors that singles out "loitering aimlessly" and offensive "bag odour" after it was criticized as an attack on the homeless.

Updated code of conduct creates 'safe space' for all patrons, library says

Julia Bryan with Libraries are for Everyone wants Kingston's library to revisit its new code of conduct, saying it targets the behaviours of homeless people. (CBC)

Kingston's library board said it would hold off implementing a new code conduct for visitors that singles out "loitering aimlessly" and offensive "bag odour" after it was criticized as an attack on the homeless.

The update to the Kingston Frontenac Public Library's code of conduct includes several sections that community groups said appear designed to single out homeless patrons.

Though it was passed in March, the library has yet to implement the new code.

About a hundred people attended a library board meeting Wednesday evening asking the board to halt the implementation of the code until holding public consultations. The board agreed, though it wasn't clear when the consultations would take place.

Odours, loitering

Kingston's library's isn't the only one in the region — or the country — with a code of conduct that singles out odours, loitering or certain attire as unacceptable behaviour.

Brockville, Ont.'s public library notes that "interfering with customers' use of the Library through lack of personal hygiene is not acceptable" while Ottawa's public library simply urges patrons to "pay attention to personal hygiene."
The new code of conduct at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library singles out loitering, body and bag odour and individuals carrying too many items as disruptive behaviour. (CBC)

But the language in the Kingston library's update to its code is more specific.

The code describes loitering "as sitting or standing idly about; lingering aimlessly without using library services, regular and/or prolonged attendance at the library without using library services."

A section on personal hygiene warns "offensive body odour and/or offensive clothing/bag odour will not be tolerated." Kingston's proposed code also asks patrons to "limit the belongings you regularly bring to the library." 

'Be clean, be nice and don't hang around'

The language in the code stigmatizes the typical behaviour of a group already marginalized, said Don Seymour, the CEO of Addiction and Mental Health Services of Kingston, FrontenacLennox and Addington.

"'Be clean, dress nice and don't hang around and you are welcome at the library' ... well that might sound a little harsh but that's how you have to read this new code of conduct," said Seymour.

The revised code also has a subtle change in its introduction, replacing the line "Everyone is welcome at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library" with "Welcome to the Kingston Frontenac Public Library."

Both the revised and previous code describe the library environment as "accessible," "inclusive" and "welcoming." But the revised code replaces the word "comfortable" with "safe."

Creating a 'safe space'

Chief librarian Patricia Enright said the library has had incidents in the past where the behaviour of some visitors has prevented others from using entire sections of the facility. 

"It is all about creating a safe space for all of our patrons and it is dealing with behaviours and not targeting an individual," said Enright.

She said she wants to hear the concerns of the community, and said before the board's decision that if the board decided to it could revisit the code.

Kingston's previous policy only stated that "loitering or sleeping on library premises is not allowed" and said patrons should "wear appropriate attire, including shirts and footwear."

Those policies are similar to those of the Toronto Public Library, which mentions attire but not odour.

Other libraries have embraced their role as a gathering place for all members of the public. Halifax's public library, for example, has encouraged homeless people to come in from the cold when temperatures drop.

With files from Frédéric Pepin