Memorial for lawyer who represented holocaust deniers creates controversy for Toronto Public Library
Barbara Kulaszka, a librarian turned lawyer, acted as counsel for Ernst Zundel, among others
Despite attempts by members of the public to have a memorial for a controversial lawyer shut down, the event went ahead at a Toronto public library on Wednesday night with extra security.
Who the woman was, who she represented during her career and who was scheduled to speak at the event created heat for the library, which allowed her supporters to book space and hold the nearly two-hour evening event at an Etobicoke branch.
Those tied to hate and bigotry have no place in our libraries.- James Pasternak , city councillor
Barbara Kulaszka, a librarian turned lawyer, according to the memorial page, acted as counsel for Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel and Marc Lemire, leader of the Heritage Front — a white supremacist group.
She died in her hometown of Brighton, Ont., about 150 kilometres east of Toronto in June.
The Toronto Public Library, for its part, says it will review its booking policy in the wake of the controversy over the memorial, which was held at Richview Public Library, 1806 Islington Ave., north of Eglinton Avenue West.
Library staff were in the room during the event.
Ana-Maria Critchley, spokesperson for the library, said after the memorial that the library will review the incident, look at its policy and debrief staff about the event.
"Anytime there are so many people who express concerns and contact us with their comments, that will definitely prompt us to have a conversation and evaluate the situation and how events unfolded," she said.
"It's that delicate balancing act between intellectual freedom and continuing to offer a welcoming environment."
Toronto police officers were on hand to keep the peace, according to spokesperson Const. Victor Kwong.
It was the use of public space, primarily, that shocked people, including Mayor John Tory, Coun. James Pasternak and Coun. John Campbell.
"It is truly shocking that individuals who spread hatred, deny the Holocaust and have ties to neo-Nazi groups are being provided a permit by the Toronto Public Library to host an event inside a public building," Pasternak said. "Those tied to hate and bigotry have no place in our libraries."
Mayor John Tory expressed deep concern and asked the library to consider cancelling the event. Tory was informed that the library received legal advice that it could not reject the room booking request. He said he will ask the library board to review its room rental policies in the wake of what happened.
Campbell, who represents Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre, said it was a bad decision by the library to welcome the group because of its past record of hate speech. He said the memorial should have been held at a church.
"I don't think the library should be welcoming unsavoury types into our premises. My view is that, the head librarian should have said, 'No, we're going to put a stop and we're not going to allow them here.'"
He said it's a "bit of stain" on the library and on Toronto for allowing the event to happen in a public space.
'We paid for the library'
Lemire and Paul Fromm, among others, were scheduled to speak. Fromm, the memorial's organizer, is the founder of the Canadian Association for Free Expression and a self-described white nationalist — someone who has no place being hosted in a public library, critics said.
"The fact that a publicly funded facility would permit their premises to be used for a gathering of racists boggles the mind," wrote Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
We paid for the library. It is public and should be open to our use.- Paul Fromm , organizer
Fromm told CBC Toronto that he "and all the attendees are taxpayers, many in the city of Toronto. We paid for the library. It is public and should be open to our use.
"The library isn't hosting anything. It is providing rental meeting spaces," he said, adding that the $10 admission fee was going to help with the costs of renting the venue.
He added the controversy was "stirred up by the enemies of free speech" and that it's ironic that Kulaszka's memorial has become "a free speech battle for this brave lady who was a female pioneer in the free speech battle."
Warren Kinsella, a Toronto-based political consultant and commentator who is a staunch opponent of Fromm's, disagreed.
"Public services are not supposed to be used to promote discrimination.The library in Etobicoke is doing that," he said.
"They're providing a platform for neo-nazis and white supremacists to have a platform and that's outrageous."
Kinsella said he is concerned the event could start a trend. He said there could be "many more such groups," which will "cause division, hurt feelings and intimidate lots of people."
Concerns taken seriously
The outcry against the library was swift — a Richview staff member said "we've been inundated with calls over the last 48 hours" when reached by phone.
In a statement, the library said it took the concerns raised very seriously.
We do not tolerate hate speech.- Toronto Public Library
"We do not tolerate hate speech. However, we cannot deny bookings from the community that are in accordance with the law and the library's policy," the statement reads.
It goes on to say the memorial was an external third-party room booking and was not endorsed or sponsored by the library, however, "should the group act in a manner that is not consistent with the law or our rules of conduct, please be assured that we will take immediate action."
Extra security added to event
Critchley said it was not aware of the background of the people scheduled to speak at the time of the booking, which was made about three weeks ago.
"We have added extra security and are working with the police to ensure safety and order," Critchley said.
According to the library's website, a staff member will "ask you some questions to make sure the facilities are appropriate for your use," before booking.
Not practising at time of death
Kulaszka was listed with the Law Society of Upper Canada at the time of her death, but she was not practising.
"In my view, Barbara Kulaszka was, like her late predecessor and colleague Doug Christie, a fellow traveller of those neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and hatemongers for whom she acted as legal counsel," Bernie Farber added.
Doug Christie, who died in 2013, was a B.C. lawyer whose client list included Fromm, former Nazi prison guard Michael Seifert and Zundel, who maintains the Holocaust never occurred.
Kulaszka was also the editor of Did Six Million Really Die? — a book about the "false news trial" of Zundel.
Richard Warman, a human rights lawyer who has successfully prosecuted hate speech cases at the Human Rights Tribunal on several occasions, said "Fromm has a decades long association with the neo-Nazi movement in Canada and has twice been barred from holding events on Parliament Hill."
He ended by saying "if that's not good enough for the Toronto public library to say, 'No, thanks,' then what could be?"
With files from Lisa Xing