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Blog February 20, 2018

Toronto Public Library Is Committed to Intellectual Freedom: A Response to “’No Platforming’ should have no place in a Public Library”

The No Platforming blog post calls on the Library Board to reconsider its revised room booking policy. The blog refers to TPL as “detouring from its mandate” and the revised policy as “a misguided endeavor”, suggesting TPL’s commitment to intellectual freedom has been undermined.

Intellectual freedom is a core public library value, and one that I will never hesitate to stand up to defend. This conversation is an important one to be having. There are so many challenges to freedom of speech in today’s world – in libraries, political and government forums, on university campuses – and it’s imperative that we continue to have open discourse and listen to, respect and learn from each other’s perspectives.

With that in mind, I will take this opportunity to directly clarify some points about the revised TPL policy:

  • The revised policy is the result of a rigorous and thorough policy review that has been undertaken with City of Toronto legal counsel, external legal counsel, consultation with stakeholder individuals and groups, a review of all relevant legislation and an environmental scan of other policies. The review was conducted over several months and as a final step, the legal memo and revised policy were peer reviewed by a professor of constitutional law at Osgoode Hall. To suggest the revisions represent bad policy is to say that the host of people involved, many with expertise in municipal and constitutional law, have got it all wrong.


  • The revised policy provides a pragmatic and defensible framework for making room booking decisions based on the purpose of the booking, not the individuals or groups making the booking. This is an important distinction that seems to have been overlooked. There was much pressure to base decisions without any regard for the purpose of the booking. In the legal review of the policy, a number of opportunities were identified to strengthen the policy but not to change the basis for decision-making. TPL has made it clear that the revised policy would not change the original approval for the memorial service that took place at the Richview branch.


  • The process was not driven by political discomfort over the controversy. If that had been the case, the Richview booking would have been cancelled at the very beginning. Instead, TPL took a stand and allowed the booking despite the political and public controversy demanding otherwise. The blog states that with the revised policy: “…groups [will] seek to use and enforce the prior restraint of rental denial or cancellation to silence their opponents.” If that were the case and political discomfort was a driving force, then the Library would not have allowed the recent rental booking for Jordan Peterson’s speaking engagement to promote his new book. This event took place this year with 500 people attending at the Library’s premier rental venue at Bloor and Yonge. Clearly the revised policy is not preventing bookings on controversial topics or individuals.


  • TPL has never shied away from controversial topics in its collections, provision of internet services, programming or room booking decisions. It actively provides forums for a diversity of views to be presented. In fact, TPL is launching a 2018 Civil Society series of public programs to open up difficult conversations, exploring what comprises a civil society in today’s climate and how disagreeing civilly with each other is a lesson we need to discuss, and in some cases, relearn. 

As Sheldon Levy, former Ryerson University President recently wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star:

Even if you suppress their expression, bad ideas never die. Those who oppose them must never lose the ability to confront them peaceably but forcefully, to turn them inside out, and to speak convincingly against them – and in favour of their own perspectives – on campus and beyond.

We are committed to Toronto Public Library’s mission of preserving and promoting universal access to a broad range of human knowledge, experience, information and ideas in a welcoming and supportive environment. We have not wavered in our commitment to free expression and the principles of intellectual freedom, and we will continue to defend these values vigorously.