Toronto

Tory 'disappointed' in Toronto Public Library for hosting speaker accused of transphobia

Mayor John Tory says he is "disappointed" in the Toronto Public Library for its refusal to cancel an event featuring a speaker who has made controversial remarks about transgender women.

John Tory's office unsuccessfully asked city librarian to reconsider decision

In a news release issued Thursday, Mayor John Tory spoke out against the Toronto Public Library for refusing to cancel a controversial event set for Oct. 29. (Thornhill/Reuters)

Mayor John Tory says he is "disappointed" in the Toronto Public Library's refusal to cancel an event featuring a speaker who has made controversial remarks about transgender women.

"I don't agree with the decision," Tory said in a press release Thursday. 

"I'm disappointed in the Toronto Public Library's decision to allow this talk to go ahead on its property."

The third-party event, scheduled for Oct. 29, features Meghan Murphy, a freelance writer who runs a website called Feminist Current. Murphy has written that "allowing men to identify as women" endangers women and undermines women's rights.

Tory says his office reached out to City Librarian Vickery Bowles and asked her to reconsider the decision. 

"She has explained her rationale and stands by her decision," Tory said, adding that the city should hold itself to "the highest standard" when it comes to the use of public buildings. 

"There are thousands of places this event could be held in Toronto other than the public library."

'I stand in solidarity'

Tory isn't the only one with concerns.

Jill Andrew, NDP MPP for Toronto-St. Paul's, says she was "dismayed" to learn of the library's refusal to cancel the event. 

"A person who publicly espouses hate speech should not be given a platform to disseminate their views at a publicly funded institution such as the TPL," Andrew said. 

"As a proud member of Toronto's queer community, I stand in solidarity with LGBTQ folks, as well as with local writers and members of the literary community who are standing up to oppose the TPL's decision."  

Several Ontario writers have also blasted the library for its decision, saying it is providing a platform for Murphy to spread hate speech.

Group says it's 'honoured' to host Murphy

In a written statement to CBC Toronto, Murphy said women and girls around the world have concerns about the "impact of gender legislation" and deserve to be heard. 

"It is unconscionable that the mayor of Toronto would attempt to pressure the TPL to cancel this event," her statement reads.

"What I am saying is not controversial, and certainly is not hateful ... We deserve space for this conversation and our concerns deserve respect."

Organizers of the event agree. 

"We have invited Meghan Murphy to speak because she is respected as an important feminist voice, not only in Canada, but around the world," reads a statement from Radical Feminists Unite, the Toronto-based group that organized the event.

Although the group says the event is sold out, tickets were priced at $5 each, "so that the event would be as accessible as possible to all." 

"Neither we, nor Meghan, are looking to remove anyone's right to safety, dignity, and freedom from discrimination ... We are honoured to host Meghan Murphy here in Toronto." 

Library welcomes 'different perspectives'

Despite the backlash, the library has maintained its decision to host Murphy, citing concerns about limiting free speech. 

"We would also suggest that engaging in respectful civil discourse with people of opposing views may be a more productive strategy than abstaining from public library events," Bowles said in a statement Tuesday. 

"Libraries have always been committed to supporting vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives rather than through censorship."

A group of Ontario authors say they plan to stop participating in Toronto Public Library events if a talk featuring writer Meghan Murphy goes ahead. (Katherine Holland/CBC)
 

The organization also says it does not believe Murphy's talk, titled "Gender Identity: What does It Mean for Society, the Law and Women?" violates its rental policy.

The policy says the library can cancel any third-party event that would promote "discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person on the basis of race, ethnic origin, place of origin, citizenship, colour, ancestry, language, creed, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, membership in a union or staff association, receipt of public assistance, level of literacy or any other similar factor."

Petition garners 2,400 signatures 

Meanwhile, an online petition against the event has gathered more than 2,400 signatures.

Its organizers, authors Alicia Elliot, Catherine Hernandez and Carrianne Leung, say they will no longer participate in events at the library in light of its decision.

"We are shocked that our public institutions we hold in regard would allow Murphy to have a platform while purporting to uphold community values. More than that, we feel betrayed," the petition reads.

"Offering Murphy a platform means denying the resources and promise of safe and equitable space to trans communities."

The petition says it is "hard to believe" Murphy's talk will not have the effect of promoting discrimination against trans people.

"Those who want to disseminate hate speech today know that they can misrepresent, then weaponize the phrase 'freedom of speech' in order to get what they want: an audience, and space to speak to and then mobilize that audience against marginalized communities," the petition says.

With files from The Canadian Press