Letter to EPL Board
Dear Edmonton Public Library Board,
We are emailing to request that a topic be put on the November 12th Board Meeting agenda: that the board should engage with the general public—but especially individuals and groups from marginalized communities, because they are the ones who would experience the fallout from hate speech—in order to add a public-facing element to the room-booking policy that acknowledges that the library will not allow groups promoting hate to book library venues.
Of course, beyond this, we hope that the library is entirely aware about how tenuous an institution’s regard in the community is and that freedom to read is not what we are pushing back at. There is a significant difference between housing a book and housing an event. There is a reason hateful groups are going to libraries: booking an event under the library’s banner, with every advertisement and poster stating the library’s name and address, is an easy way for these types of groups to siphon off the genuine respect that libraries have worked hard, over many, many years, to attain in their communities.
To give some background, we are sure the board is aware of the Toronto Public Library’s recent event by Meghan Murphy, who is a well-known trans-exclusionary activist, and the crucial protest that occurred in response to the event not being cancelled despite community members outlining how such an event makes their lives less safe. It is upsetting to see that a well-respected public institution has tarnished its reputation for a marginalized group as well as that group’s allies. Beyond that, it is frankly scary to think of the harm—both psychological and physical—that lands on the minds and bodies of individuals from marginalized groups when hate speech occurs. Right now it seems that cancelling a booking would require the hurt bodies of marginalized individuals being legally linked with the speaker at the event. That is a heavy burden being placed on the bodies of those who are very often repeatedly hurt without recourse. It does feel like right now the policy is gambling with the minds, bodies, and lives of people in tenuous positions in society. With recent funding cuts by right-leaning governments in Ontario and Alberta, marginalized communities are facing exacerbated challenges, and the library adding to those challenges would be just plain dreadful, and unnecessary. By requesting that the board takes a look at their room-booking policy, we are hoping to avoid such a community-rending event taking place in Edmonton.
The other incident that preceded this request, which directly led us, and others, to look into the booking policy, is the tweet by Edmonton Public Library CEO, Pilar Martinez, from October 30th, and her response on November 1st on the EPL Blog. We are not going to post or outline them here, as we are sure the board is fully aware of the contents of both communications. However, we are concerned about what these communications signal both to marginalized Edmontonians and to malicious actors who promote hate.
Frankly, seeing those communications, if we were an anti-trans group—or another group looking to sideline, harm, or ignore members of society we deemed to be less-than—we would see the Edmonton Public Library as a suitable and fertile place to book an event. We would see the library as an easy mark for us to take advantage of, using the library's hard-earned respect as if it was our own, and in the ensuing protests, we would hope to gain media attention to bolster our hateful message. It is not just the remarks by Pilar Martinez, but the repeated insistence in the booking policy page that what is said in meetings is not necessarily condoned or promoted. Having this said and emphasized without also saying and emphasizing that hate speech will not be accepted leaves the library open and vulnerable to malicious actors. Such an imbalance also sends a clear message to marginalized communities that their safety is less important than the right to hateful event booking. It is also telling that these malicious actors are not Edmonton library patrons. They will have flown off the next day and will not have to deal with the ramifications of a tarnished relationship between a necessary institution and vulnerable members of the city. This tarnishing could be irrevocable.
Currently, we are not sure how many speakers will wish, or will be available, to address this matter on November 12th, but we have been in communication with numerous Edmontonians who have expressed concern and interest in seeing this topic taken up by the board in a community-engaged and open manner. We will make sure to have anyone interested in speaking contact you by November 10th (over twenty-four hours before the meeting) so that they can be heard.
To end, we also want to state that community members are not just engaged with requesting this issue be taken up by the board, but are paying attention to future events. We hope that what happened in Toronto does not happen here, but we could very easily see it happening based on what has been said and the imbalanced policies currently in place.
Thanks for your time.
Sincerely, and worriedly,
Claire Kelly, Timiro Mohamed, Jason Lee Norman, Nisha Patel, Mary Pinkoski, and Matthew Stepanic