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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Toronto Public Library blocks TorontotheBetter Poverty and Homelessness flier

Last Saturday's Get Up, Stand Up event at the University of Toronto featured noted activist  writer/journalist Chris Hedges and Micah White of Adbusters and Occupy Wall Street advocating for individuals and groups who make their voice heard and defend freedom of expression speech against corporate vested interests. Specifically, Hedges singled out whistle-blowing US soldier Bradley Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for releasing information of public interest that its corporate custodians wanted hidden for their own reasons.The beneficiary of the event, which drew hundreds to UofT's |convocation Hall? None other than the venerable Toronto Public Library, staunch defenders of the public's right to know. Right? 

At TorontotheBetter we always thought so, but an event a week before Get Up, Stand Up makes us wonder. When distributing fliers for TorontotheBetter's May30 open public meeting and discussion of "Poverty and Homelessness" in the GTA, a TorontotheBetter representative was, after submitting our flier, to the relevant TPL manager, informed  that it was unacceptable. The reasons cited by the branch spokesperson were that the meeting was "political", explained as arguing for one side rather than both sides of an issue, and that our event partner, the Peel Poverty Action Group, had the word "action" in its title. Notwithstanding the prima facie idiocy of apparently requiring us to invite a spokesperson in favour of homelessness in order to make our event "non-political" and an apparent line in the TPL sand which says it's ok to believe something, but acting on your beliefs is going too far, we requested a copy of the TPL policy on which the manger's  decision to prohibit our flier was based.

Sure enough, the TPL poster policy prohbits postering for events that are "political". The unconditioned use of the word "political" in the policy makes the term so irresponsibily vacuous that, we would argue, middle-level managers and staff, to cover themselves against their seniors will inevitably err on the side of prohibiting anything the slightest bit controversial. And clearly they do, making TPL the home of the staid and the safe. Not exactly what activists like Chris Hedges and Micah White would want, I suspect.

Toronto Public Library's poster policy must change. TorontotheBetter calls on TPL members to make sure it does. At a time when Canada's federal government, among others, is distinguished by its rigorous attention to controlling information and whistle-blowers are under assault at all levels, including our increasingly controlling 21st century workplaces, ostensibly free voices like public libraries have a key reponsibility. We call on TPL  to make their policies and actions reflect which side of the freedom of expression fence they stand on.                              

3 comments:

W. Greg Taylor said...

To really give a perspective as a public librarian, I'd have to see the flyer, but...it does sound like the branch manager was erring too far on the side of caution. Doesn't sound like a decision I would have made in that position.

I think that type of policy makes sense if it's applied to specifically *partisan* events...but I'd like to think that the TorontoTheBetter event would fit the same civic mandate as the Get Up, Stand Up event...

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