Vancouver Library updates its regulations, claims it will not restrict freedom of expression
The room and facility booking policy at the Vancouver Public Library has been modified, as of a September 25 amendment, at a library board meeting.
The policy has expanded its regulations, stating that “in keeping with its value of intellectual freedom, the Library will not restrict freedom of expression beyond the limits prescribed by Canadian law.”
The new booking guidelines come after a decision, made by the library in January of this year, to allow feminist activist Meghan Murphy to speak, which resulted in protests by trans advocates.
Murphy is known for her gender-critical views on transgender issues and founded the Feminist Current, a feminist magazine. She even testified against Bill C-16, the gender identity bill to the Canadian Senate in 2017. Additionally, Murphy has been banned from Twitter due to what they called “misgendering.” In reality, Murphy stood up to alleged predator Jessica Yaniv, and that was the reason for her ban.
Due to allowing Murphy to speak at the library, the entire entity of the Vancouver Public Library was not invited to the Vancouver Pride festivities this year.
It is unknown whether or not Murphy would have breached the newly updated policy, or if the library will be invited to pride festivities next year.
According to CTV News, Christina de Castell, the chief librarian stated that “We felt the booking room policy needed to be updated to be clear about the language and how we balance values. The consciousness of discrimination of equity-seeking groups is changing in Canada, and we have decided to consult with the B.C. human rights commissioner to help us prevent discrimination.”
The library now has a more standard scrutinization process in order for groups to book rooms and facilities within the library system. The scenario that the library would not allow for an event to go through would be if there is a contravention of the BC Human Rights Code or the Criminal Code of Canada.
Most notably, Canada’s hate speech laws, section 318 (advocating or promoting genocide) and section 319 (public or willful promotion against an identifiable group), are mentioned in the criteria that would forbid a booking.
Similarly in Toronto in 2017, their library board voted to update their room booking policy to ensure that events that would promote hatred against any identifiable group would not be allowed to use library space.
The line between freedom of speech and the freedom to incite violence is one of the hardest distinctions to put into practice. Toby Young, however, who has recently created the Free Speech Union, may have a better idea than most.
Two years ago, when Theresa May was still the prime minister of the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party appointed Toby Young as a member of the Board of the Office for Students. Despite it being an unpaid position, Young quickly accepted it, and yet within a few days, he had not only lost that job but four others.
Young suffered from the sordid affliction of conservatism, and because of this, his qualifications were overlooked. Almost as soon as he was appointed, legions of “offence archaeologists” began to excavate through decades of articles—inevitably digging up artifacts that would soon cost him his livelihood.
“They dug up some stuff, took it out of context, and portrayed me as a bigot,” said Young. “It was trial by social media: guilty until proven innocent and, by the way, you’re not going to have a chance to defend yourself. I ended up not only having to step down from the regulator, but also from four other positions, including my day job running an education charity. It was brutal—I lost two stone.”
By appointing Young—who perhaps was even an overqualified candidate—the British Conservative Party had committed the unpardonable sin. They had appointed someone with the exact virtues needed for the position: industry knowledge, a public profile, and, most importantly, outspoken and lucid principles. And yet, it was precisely these qualities that led to Young’s downfall.
Within hours, the platoons of the progressives had trudged through decades of articles and social media posts. At one point, all ten of the Spectator’s most viewed articles in their archive, which dates back to 1828, were authored by Young. As the editor of Spectator noted, “Young’s army of detractors were hard at work.”
Young’s ordeal is not as remote as it may seem. These tactics—owing in part to their efficacy—have begun to seep into democracy itself. Take, for instance, Justin Trudeau’s tactics in the 2019 election, where the Liberal apparatus took the form “of a constant barrage of oppo research deployed against Conservative candidates.”
Mercifully enough for the Conservatives, the state-funded offence excavator, indulgent in its smugness, was retired after Justin Trudeau’s penchant for blackface emerged. Nevertheless, within a few weeks, the Liberal Party had time to craft and exhibit the online transgressions of six separate opposition candidates.
All this has sent an unequivocal message to Conservatives: If you dare oppose the prevailing orthodoxy of the day—or in the case of those Conservative candidates, dare oppose Canada’s natural governing party—you will suffer first public humiliation and then unemployment.
“Free speech has never been in more peril across the Anglosphere than at any time since the Second World War,” said Young. “Why? Because the regressive Left has launched a ferocious attack on free speech and the progressive Left doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to defend it.”
As a result of this, Young has launched the first major revolt against those who no longer value free-speech or ideological diversity. With a group of internationally recognized academics, public intellectuals, and journalists, Young has created the Free Speech Union, aimed at defending those who have exercised their right to free speech. “I want to stop the same thing happening to other people, which is why I’ve set up the union,” said Young.
The Free Speech Union is perhaps the only available means to defend yourself against the tactics of the far-left. If you are a member, the union will mobilize an army of supporters to defend you against outrage mobs. They will also launch counter-petitions, defend you in the media, and provide legal assistance whenever it is reasonably possible.
“We will challenge outrage mobs in a variety of ways,” said Young. “If bullies come after one of our members on social media, we’ll go after them. If the woke witch-finders start a petition demanding that one of our members is fired, we’ll start a counter-petition. If one of our British-based members faces a disciplinary process—or is fired—we’ll give them access to legal advice and, if necessary, help them crowd-fund to pay their costs. The enemies of free speech hunt in packs; its defenders need to band together too.”
Speaking to The Post Millennial, the prolific National Post columnist Jonathan Kay commended the ambition of the union. “I hope it works,” he said. Kay, however, did express caution over the capability of the union: “the problem is that if somebody really wants to cancel someone, the pressure points come from within their own professional milieus. The cancellers don’t care if you’re in some kind of free speech union. It would only work if thousands and thousands of people joined it.”
The good news is that the Free Speech Union is well on its way to garnering this support. Speaking about the reception the Union has received, Young said that “it has been very well received by conservatives and by some members of the progressive left.”
One example of this is the Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole, who told The Post Millennial that “free speech is the foundation of a free and democratic society. Conservatives need to stand united against the threat posed by “cancel culture.” The left is trying to intimidate into silence conservatives—and even those on the left who question the most extreme views. This is a real threat that we need to take seriously.”
The Free Speech Union has suffered some criticism from the usual candidates. The regressive Left, for instance, have “done their best to portray it as an organization that’s been set up to protect male, pale and stale conservatives like me from the consequences of hate speech.”
This attempted portrayal may be a difficult task for Young’s army of detractors. So far, the five-person Board of Directors includes a gay man and a woman of colour, making the Free Speech Union, as Young said, “more diverse, in every sense, than the BBC.”
Speaking on the necessity for free speech, Young paraphrased Ira Glasser, the former head of the ACLU: “speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.”
Combative metaphors aside, it would be more constructive for the regressive left to join the union, or at least not work against it. After all, Young’s detractors proclaim themselves to be liberals. Shouldn’t they commit to a cause that defends the central tenet of liberalism: free speech? To silence any voice is to impoverish the world and our decision-making capacity. The free speech Young is trying to protect is our individual liberty: we negate it at our cost.
Gender critical feminist Meghan Murphy is being held responsible for the effects of the threats against her. CUPE Local 391, representing workers at the Vancouver Public Library, wants the library to shut down Murphy’s upcoming March 21 talk. They are concerned about the impact that the threats against Murphy and the controversy surrounding gender-critical ideas has had on library workers.
Trans activists have previously asked for Murphy’s series of #GIDYVR talks to be denied public meeting space, and they protest her everywhere she speaks. They have threatened Murphy, the VPL, and library staff. The library has not folded to these demands. But for some reason the union wants to punish the women that have been threatened, instead of those who advocate for violence against women.
It would be normal to blame the trans activists who have made the threats—but in lieu of that, they are blaming the women who have been threatened. Murphy wants to meet peacefully to discuss gender identity, as she has done countless times before. She neither courts nor advocates for violence. The union’s reasoning is that the protests put an undue burden on library employees.
In a public statement, a response to VPL’s upcoming room rental to Murphy for a March 21 talk, CUPE Local 391 states:
“The stress put on workers before, during, and after this event, has the potential for long-term damage that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Members have expressed, to the union and to management, symptoms of anxiety, fear, anger, and depression in both their professional and personal lives. These experiences raise health and safety concerns from the union for those members directly affected as well as those working alongside their struggling colleagues. The impact is also felt by the many members who have had to navigate highly emotional conversations with colleagues and the public due to the very public discussion surrounding this issue. Library patrons and community members have directly targeted our members on social media while engaging in the debate about the decision to allow the room rental. Members in the unit responsible for library communications and social media have likewise been exposed to threatening and violent language.”
In short, because #GIDYVR events draw protests, the union wants to cave to the threats of activists and deny women their right to gather peacefully. Instead of condemning those who would deny Murphy her right to rent public space, the union condemns Murphy. The woman who is persistently threatened with violence is now being blamed for those very threats.
Murphy is no stranger to attempted deplatforming. She has held events at the Vancouver Public Library before, and has been protested for it. The library was disinvited from marching in Vancouver’s Pride Parade because they have allowed her group to rent space. When Murphy speaks on panels, or at gender critical events, she is flanked by bodyguards due to persistent threats of violence against her. Murphy did not ask for this fight but she has taken it up because the alternative is the erasure of women. If our greatest institutions cannot stand up for our rights to speak freely, all hope of justice and discourse is lost. The union would rather allow the silencing of women than address the violent threats of the trans advocates.
Murphy responded on Instagram: “—the library staff union—has released an appalling statement, framing out #GIDYVR events as, essentially, a health and safety risk to workers. While indeed trans activists have threatened violence, it is not the event itself, which is a discussion of women’s rights, that is the risk. The union is pressuring the Vancouver Public Library to cancel our next event, Gidyvr Women’s spaces & Places, on account of ‘stress’ caused to union members on account of the harassment, verbal abuse, and threats they receive from trans activists. WOMEN are being blamed for threats, abuse and harassment from others, many of whom are male. We are being held accountable for the harassment, violence, and threats WE receive from abusive authoritarians. A fucking LABOUR UNION is attempting to silence feminist speech and public debate about a subject that impacts all of us because a group of fascists don’t want women to speak in their own defense. It is incredibly inappropriate, to start, for the union to speak on behalf of their members in this way, considering there are, as the VPL and CUPE are aware, numerous people on staff and in the union who support out events and right to speak. Moreover, it is unacceptable to attempt to punish and silence us for exercising our right to free expression and for standing up for women’s rights. PUSH BACK.”
The Post Millennial reached out to Murphy to find out why she thought the union would make such an appalling statement in opposition to women’s rights to freely gather. “There are a lot of people with positions of power in unions across Canada who have taken a hard stand in favour of gender identity ideology/legislation and have refused to listen to dissenters from within or without the union,” Murphy said. “The BC Federation of Labour blacklisted Vancouver Rape Relief in 2016, for example, and numerous union execs have publicly vilified and libelled me. Unions in Canada are all very connected to the NDP, as well and of course, as the NDP is essentially Canada’s Labour Party. And the NDP and fully adopted a position in favour of gender identity legislation that cannot be challenged. They have lost members and votes because of this, but continue not to listen to those of us who have long supported the party but who also have concerns about gender identity ideology and the impact on women.”
The pressure from trans activists can be fierce and uncompromising. The CUPE may think that their virtue signaling on this will lead to a diminishing of trans activist anger, but, as Murphy points out, this “will not free them from the bullying of trans activists, who apparently will accept nothing less than full capitulation.” Murphy has reason to believe that “there are people on staff/in the union who support or events and have even attended our events. So they published this statement despite knowing all union members are not on board with what they are saying.”
A labour union, an organization that has the sole purpose of upholding rights, seeks to deny the rights of others. In the face of injustice, and advocacy for the denial of women’s rights to speak, the union is caving to threats. While it is couched in concern for their members, the effect is the same as letting mob rule decide who gets access to public space and who does not. It’s shameful that the union wrote this statement, that it was approved and released. It’s unacceptable to cow to threats of violence simply because it’s the less difficult option, and it’s doubly unacceptable to blame women for those threats levelled against them.
A labour union should know this.
The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has bestowed its blessing on cancel culture–the twisted phenomenon whereby universities and public libraries cancel scheduled events just because someone claims to be offended. In Nova Scotia, cancel culture has spread to personalized license plates. Justice Darlene Jamieson ruled on January 31, 2020, that one anonymous complaint about Lorne Grabher’s personalized “GRABHER” license plate was enough to warrant its permanent cancellation. The Court affirmed the January 2017 decision to cancel the plate which the Grabher family had used for over 25 years, because Mr. Grabher’s surname could be “misinterpreted” as a “socially unacceptable slogan.”
Lorne Grabher is of Austrian-German heritage. His family immigrated to Canada from Europe in 1906. His father served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and was stationed in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The family’s history, including their name and the heritage it signifies, is important to the Grabher family. In or around 1990 the Grabher family applied for the “GRABHER” plate, originally a gift to Lorne’s father and later used by Lorne’s son. For 27 consecutive years, through three generations of Grabhers, the Registrar authorized the plate for use on the family’s motor vehicles in Nova Scotia. Each year the Registrar of Motor Vehicles renewed the plate without issue.
All it took to wreck this noble family tradition was one anonymous complaint to the Registrar, in October of 2016. Without taking into account the Grabher family’s pride in its Austrian-German heritage, and ignoring all prior decisions to renew the plate year after year after year, Janice Harland of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles told Lorne Grabher: “While I recognize this plate was issued as your last name, the public cannot be expected to know this and can misinterpret it as a socially unacceptable slogan.”
For Lorne Grabher, this case is about more than a personalized plate. It’s about his family’s name, personal dignity, and the ongoing insult by the Nova Scotia government in its censorship of the plate.
Justice Darlene Jamieson has effectively equated Lorne Grabher’s surname with EATASS, FOQME, HOTCOK, BLOWJB, BRDSHT, FSTFK, FCKPIG, 8CUNT, DCHBAG, GNGBNG, FQUALL and other objectionable terms on the Banned List of words that are prohibited by the Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles. The court was not moved by the double standard of foul language used by another government entity, the Halifax Water Board, whose bus ads included the phrases “Powerful Sh*t” and “Be proud of your Dingle.” The court also deemed irrelevant the existence of Canadian place names like “Dildo, Newfoundland,” “Swastika, Ontario,” “Red Indian Lake, Newfoundland,” “Crotch Lake, Ontario,” “Old Squaw Islands, Nunavut,” and “Cape Negro” in Nova Scotia.
Justice Jamieson relied heavily on a report by Carrie Rentschler (https://www.mcgill.ca/ahcs/people-contacts/faculty/rentschler) a McGill University professor of “feminist media studies” who specializes in things like “the construction of new political subjectivities,” “emergent forms of social collectivity,” and “the shape and practice of contemporary feminisms in social media networks and hashtag publics.”
Professor Rentschler argued that the “GRABHER” license plate supports or increases violence against women; that exposure to cultural slogans normalizes sexual violence against women; that Mr. Grabher’s plate creates an elevated risk of rape; and that Mr. Grabher’s surname is a statement in support of physical violence against women. As the Professor explains in her revised report:
“As an expression, the meaning of ‘Grabher’ could be understood to signify the support, condoning and encouragement of gendered physical violence against girls and women. ‘Grabher’ – read as ‘Grab her’- is a speech act that can potentially contribute to the harms of gendered violence against girls and women, ‘crossing over from expressive activity to threat’… As an injunction, recipients of the phrase may interpret it as encouragement to grab or grope female individuals without their consent.”
There was no evidence before the court that there is less crime in Nova Scotia, or in Mr. Grabher’s neighborhood, since the plate was revoked. There was no evidence that anyone, including the anonymous complainant, had suffered any harm as a result of the plate.
Professor Rentschler claimed that Mr. Grabher’s plate is broadly “offensive” to the public, but provided no examples of any specific people or studies who find it so. Professor Rentschler is not from Nova Scotia, admitting on cross-examination that she did not know the name of the big blue ship in the background on all Nova Scotia licence plates. She provided no evidence to support her claim that the plate endangers the general public. Nor did the Nova Scotia government present any evidence to support any of Professor Renstchler’s assertions. There was no evidence that any roadway or motorist or citizen, female or male, was ever once endangered by the plate. There was therefore no evidence that the plate represents “language that supports gendered violence” or that the “plate promotes violence against women.”
Despite the absence of evidence to support Professor Rentschler’s wild claims, Justice Jamieson actually agreed with her, ruling that “the seven letters ‘GRABHER,’ without added context to indicate this is a surname, could be interpreted as promoting sexualized violence against women and girls.”
Justice Jamieson decreed that banning Mr. Grabher’s plate is justified to prevent harm, to ensure a “safe and welcoming” environment on Nova Scotia roads, and to protect individuals in society from the effects of offensive expression. She stated: “Clearly the provincial government cannot sanction having vehicles with government-owned plates travelling the highways of this province and country bearing messages that could be considered ‘offensive or not in good taste’.”
Where would we be without the government to keep us safe from the scourge of peoples’ offensive surnames?
What actual harm Mr. Grabher’s personalized plate had caused from 1990 to 2017 was not explained by the Court, nor could the Registrar of Motor Vehicles point to any harm. The Nova Scotia government suggested the GRABHER plate hurt tourism, but the government’s witness, Peter Hackett, later admitted that there was no such evidence.
The Registrar provided no evidence on behalf of the person who complained, why that person complained, or even whether she or he resided in Nova Scotia. The Registrar treated an ethnically German name as an English phrase, and then attached an idiosyncratic and demeaning reading to it. Mr. Grabher’s claim of discrimination against Canadians of Austrian-German heritage was dismissed because, according to Justice Jamieson, persons of Austrian-German heritage do not suffer from any “pre-existing disadvantage or stereotyping in Canadian society.” Essentially: discrimination is only wrong if you belong to the right group.
The court minimized the hurt and humiliation experienced by Mr. Grabher in the past three years, claiming that he is “free” to “choose another personalized plate consisting of up to seven letters or numbers. As Justice Jamieson explained it: “He is not denied access to personalized plates, but solely access to the seven-letter, personalized “GRABHER” plate.” This “freedom” is rather worthless because no other expression on the plate would communicate the same idea as the family surname. If you cannot say what you want, there is no free expression. For a court to say “no worries, you are allowed to say other things” misses the whole point of free expression.
Cancel culture panders to the fragile snowflakes who file anonymous complaints. Their desire, to avoid feeling offended by their own imagination about what someone else’s last name could mean if translated into a different language and then distorted into something it is not, must take precedence over someone else’s right to display his own last name with pride.
When courts promote cancel culture, they harm the free society.
On February 1, feminist group Women’s Liberation Front held a panel discussion at the Seattle Public Library on the impact of transgender activism on women’s sex-based rights. Featuring Sabina Malik, Kara Dansky, and Twitter-banned Meghan Murphy, the sold-out talk was met with resounding support, but trans rights activists and antifa made their resentment and hostility clear.
Masked protestors wielding signs and chanting misogynistic slurs were monitored closely by Seattle police, who were out in full force to detail the crowd outside of the library.
As the night continued, the protests grew louder. Protestors began to use drums, whistles, and amplifiers in an attempt to disrupt the peaceful women’s rights-related talk occurring inside.
Several of the protestors managed to breach the security barriers and were shouted down by the crowd while police took action and removed them from the premises.
The Seattle Public Library event represents a disturbing trend in peaceful talks being shouted down by social justice mobs. In November of 2019, #GIDYVR had to relocate to the Pan Pacific after its Simon Fraser University sponsor, Mark Collard, withdrew access to the venue due to the overwhelming threat of violence.
In January 2020, Andy Ngo’s lecture at the University of British Columbia was cancelled citing similar concerns about campus safety.
All photos property of Amy Eileen Hamm (@preta_6) and used with consent.