Racism and Libraries in Canada
Libraries and Hate
N.B. This page is being revised
This newspaper cartoon highlites the contradiction between public safety and allowing hate groups to meet in public libraries. While some libraries in the province of British Columbia allowed, if not welcomed hate group meetings under the pretense of freedom of expression, at the very same time they not only stopped patron access to magazines like Playboy, but sanctioned patrons who did access such magazines privately online. The B.C. Library Association did not see the hypocrisy of the library position on nudity versus hate and congratulated the Victoria Public Library for flauting human rights and Canada's international obligations to ensure that hate and racism are not endorsed or encouraged by giving the library a so-called "intellectual freedom award", to the dismay of anti-racist groups.
The story of how anti-racist were able to change library meeting room policy to stop racist meetings has not been fully told. What exists are a handful of now hard to find newspaper reports, an Ombudsman's Report and a BC Human Rights Commission complaint that was dismissed on a technicality. The following brief history is an attempt to shed some light on the dynamics of the struggle to change one small part of public policy with respect to hate groups.
What can be learned from this history of demonstrations against hate and for equality is that it takes hard work over a period of time before politicians, the media and public officials will take a stand for justice. We forget this lesson at our peril.
This website is devoted to telling other stories and helping mobilize against all forms of nationalism, fascism and racism. Your help in this work is appreciated and we look forward to your help in expanding this document through your suggestions and additions.
The Struggle to Stop Hate
The following picture shows a rally at the Juan De Fuca Library in 1998 to protest hate group meetings in that and other libraries in the province in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The Province, a daily newspaper, reported that the rally was attended by approximately 400 people. Unions were always a large contingent at anti-racism rallies and the protests against hate groups in the library meeting was no exception.
(Photo credit: Harry Abrams.)
The rally at the library was one of many that attempted to influence the provincial and municipal governmetns and library boards to ensure that hate groups are barred from using public faciltities. The outcome of these rallies and mass demonstrations as well as the behind the scenes lobbying and complaints was that library boards, which had previously rejected out of hand all demands to stop racist groups and hate mongers from using public facilities, were forced to change meeting room rental policy. But the Library Boards and Libraries had to be dragged to that decision. In fact, in the midst of the popular struggle, the BC Library Assocaition flouted human rights and public opinion by awarding the Library a so-called intellectual freedom award for continuing to allow hate groups meetings.
Hate groups have historically used libraries and other public facilities in Canada to promote intolerance and recruit members. The main reason why public facilities have been so attractive to hate groups is that they tend to lend the groups credibility which allows them to broaden their membership and to gain credibility for their messages of hate.
The following picture is from a public meeting held in a Vancouver public Library circa 1933 by a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Joining many other hate groups, the american based KKK was very active in Canada throughout the 1930s and had chapters across the country. Of course, the KKK, then as now, claimed it was not a "hate" group, but merely a group seeking to preserve "white" or specifically European/Protestant values against encroachment by Catholics, Jews and many ethnic nationalities - Italians, Poles, African, and French-Canadians.
(Ku Klux Klan in Vancouver Library crica 1933. Photo credit: BC Archives)
Libraries, for their part, have historically claimed exclusive jurisdiction over the use of library space, claiming "freedom of expression" and that those who want to prevent meetings of hate groups are "censors" and worse than the groups they wish to bar. There are very good reasons why libraries and, in fact, all public facilities should bar hate mongers and the following pages will present some of these reasons.
As David Matas has argued, one very basic reason to bar hate groups from public facilities is that Canada is bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that: "All are entitled to equal protection against discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitmeent to such discrimination" (Article 7). Canada is also a signatory to a number of other international covenants and binding agreements and must provide progress reports to the United Nations on the implimentation and adherence to the principles enshrined in these documnts. For example, Canada is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that: "Any advocacy of natioal, racial or religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohiitted by law" (Article 20). Canada is also a signatory to the the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination which provides that states parties: "Shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination" (Article 4).
These international conventions and agreements bind not only the federal govenment but all provincial, territorial and municipal governments and agencies. This means that all libraries and library boards in Canada have a duty to protect their patrons against incitement and discrimination by not renting or providing library space to groups that are likely to incite hatred and discrimination.
A second reason to bar hate mongers from using public faciltiites is that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in any democracy. As Emillio Benavince has argued: the right to freedom of experssion is an empty right if there is no protection for human rights since only those in the majority or in pwoer can excersize the right to expression. Preventing racism and discrimination is obviosuly necessary to allow other rights like assembly and expression and has been found to not unecessarily violate the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms by the Supreme Court of Canada.There are, in fact, a number of laws which limit freedom of experssion including copyright infringement and defamatory libel.
While many libraries and public institutions across Canada abided by Canada's international and dmoestic responsibilites to prevent incitement and hatred by refuseing to rent or provide space to organiations likely to expose patrons to hate, the Vancouver Public Library, the Juan de Fuca Library, the Colwood Library and the Sanich Public Library sided with racists and allowed hate groups to use library space for meetings. The Ottawa library, for example, in 1998 refused to allow Paul Fromm, a school teacher fired for his involvement with hate groups, to rent space for meetings. Yet, the Victoria Library rented a meeting room for use by Paul Fromm, Doug Christie and Ernst Zundel. Paul Fromm, a former school teacher, was later fired for his
involvement with hate groups in 1996. Doug Christie was described by the Law Society of B.C. in 1993 as a person who "has made common cause with a small lunatic antisemetic fringe element of our society" (in Matas). Ernst Zundel is an holocaust denier, deported from Canada as a security threat and sent to Germany to serve time for incitement.
On June 5 1999, the Victoria Public Library Branch in Saanich provided space for a meeting of the Canadian Free Speech League to sponsor a fund raiser for Doug Collins. Collins was found to have promoted hatred by the BC Human Rights Commission in a newspaper column written for the North Shore News.
On Septemener 30, 1999 the Vancovuer Public Library rented a meeting room to Doug Christie of the Canadian Free Speech League. At the meeting were Paul Fromm, Marc Lemire of the racist heritage Front and Doug Collins of the Nroth Shore News and Jud Cylorn who wrote the racist book "Stop Apologizing".
However, while some of these same libraries that justified providing spae for racist meetings under the notion of intellectual freedom, they warned patrons about viewing magazines like Playboy online in the Library and subscribed to newsltters that front for hate groups and allowed hate groups to meet in libraries.
To flaut huan rights even more, the BC Library Assocation awarded the Libary an "intellectual award" for allowing hate groups to use library space. In the midst of the and provided "intellectual freedom" awards for allowing hate groups to use public facilities tax payers expense, or at subsidized rates.
Libraries and Hate Groups - a marriage that would not last
In 1995, in response to the attack on democracy and equality posed by hate groups, a handful of community groups began to organize protests and mass demonstrations to stop hate groups from using any public facility for meetings or assemblies. While some of these protests turned ugly, the vast majority were peaceful and brought a diverse group of people together for a compelloing social justice issue.
As time went by and as the demonstrations drew more and more demonstrators, the mainstream media was forced to begin to cover the rallies in a more positive light.
(Moe Sihota, MLA and former Minister Responsible for Multiuclturalism, center, Harry Abrams left, at the rally against hate at the Juan De Fuca Library. The rally was the focus of a article in the which reported attendance at more than 400, a large gathering for the suburb of Victoria.)
In 1998 the Jewsih Federation of Vicotria and Vancouver Island made acomplaint to the Ombusmand of B.C. about "the refusal of the Greater Vicotira Public Library to amend the policy that regualtes the use of library facilities." The Federation simply wanted the library;'s meeting policy to be amended to include a claus that would allow libraries to prevent access to groups, "if these groups were considered likely to promote discrimination, contempt or hatred". The Ombudsman noted that the Library refused on the grounds that the clause would be contrary to "the right to freedom of expression."
The Ombudsman's findings were based not on the matter of allowing discrimination and racism, but on procedural fairness. In 2003 the Ombudsman finally ruled after four years that the Library's policy for renting space was deficient in that it did not spell out exactly what were the expectations for those renting rooms. The Ombudsman in a lentgthy decision stated that he was "disappointed by the Library's response to" the Ombudsman's recommendation regrding spelling out the exact expectation of the Library to those renting rooms. But the Libary ignored the Ombusman's report.
Libraries and Hate Groups - a marriage that would not last
The ultimate outcome of many rallies and demonstrations for social justice in several citites across the province of British Columbia was that library boards, which had previously rejected out of hand all demands to stop racist groups and hate mongers from using public facilities, were forced to change their policy.
Most of the early protests against allowing hate groups to use public facilities were attacked by the mainstream media and by most of the mainstream multicultural and human rights organizations. Some of these groups went so far as to organize their own much smaller demonstrations, hoping to capture media attention for their groups. Mainstream groups, then as now, believed that demonstrations and public protests were counter-productive and would only draw attention to racism and increase intolerance. This short-sighted and negative attitude was wrong as history has taught us. These same mainstream groups continue to argue for the rejection of words like "anti-racism" for words that speak of harmony and cooperation. In contrast, anti-racism groups reject attempts to co-operate or appease racists and organizations that knowingly or unknowingly cater to racists. It is this policy of appeasement that has been fostered by government agencies and that has become the requirement for continued government funding provincially and federally.
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(Alan Dutton at the rally against hate at the Juan De Fuca Library.)
Most of the early protests against allowing hate groups to use public facilities were attacked by the mainstream media and by most of the mainstream multicultural and human rights organizations. Some of these groups went so far as to organize their own demonstrations apart from the main rallies, hoping to capture some attention for their groups without incuring any of the risks. Mainstream groups, then as now, believed that demonstrations and public protests were counter-productive and would only draw attention to racists and increase intolerance. This short-sighted and negative attitude was wrong as history has taught us. These same mainstream groups continue to argue for the rejection of words like "anti-racism" for words that speak of harmony and cooperation in the face of hate. In contrast, anti-racism groups reject attempts to co-operate or appease racists and organizations that knowingly or unknowingly cater to racists. It is this policy of appeasement that has been fostered by government agencies and that has become the requirement for continued government funding provincially and federally. The affects of government funding on immigrant settlement agencies in Canada has been documented by Roxanna Ng in her ground-breaking, The Politics of Community Services. It is because of this chnage in funding priorities that has led to the almost complete failure of mainstream groups to affect any positive change in Canadian society.
We are indebted to Harry Abrams for chronicalling and helping organize some of these documents and demonstrations themselves. It should be recognized that the first demonstrations were very small and involved only a few people. Some of these people later were responsible for organizing the mass demonstrations of later years. But it was these early efforts that later demonstrations were built on and it was these mass demonstrations that resulted in the crafting of library and municipal policies that have largely stopped racist groups from using public facilities in Canada.