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Freedom of Speech Under Fire: Ontario Library Denies Platform for Author’s Controversial Talk

In a recent controversy, the London Public Library in Ontario has faced backlash for its decision to refuse rental space for an author's presentation on the topics of biological sex and freedom of speech, citing concerns that the event could potentially cross the line into hate speech.

The Library's Controversial Decision

According to internal communications made public on October 25, the library's management declined to grant space to Joanna Williams, a prominent British author known for her gender-critical beliefs. Williams, the author of acclaimed works such as "Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity" and "How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement That Threatens Democracy, Tolerance, and Reason," had intended to give a presentation titled "Sex, Gender, and the Limits of Free Speech on Campus."

Library CEO Michael Ciccone expressed his reservations in an internal email obtained through freedom of information laws, stating, "She's definitely controversial and would draw protests and attention." He also described Williams as a "TERF" and suggested that her views leaned far-right, though not entirely in that direction.

The Controversial Term "TERF"

The term "TERF," short for "trans-exclusionary radical feminist," is a derogatory label used by transgender activists to describe individuals, often women, who do not align with their ideology.

The Scandal Unfolds

The controversy began in May when the library initially refused to allow the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS), a Canada-based group dedicated to free speech and academic freedom, to book space for Williams's talk. The library cited violations of its policies related to workplace and sexual harassment, as well as concerns about potential property damage or personal injury. However, the library failed to provide substantial evidence to support these claims, even when SAFS pointed out that previous events featuring Williams had not encountered such issues. Later, it was revealed that the decision to cancel the event came from the library's board of directors.

Unveiling the Real Reasons

Internal emails unveiled the true motivation behind canceling the event: library management's disagreement with Williams's ideas.

Comparisons to Megan Murphy

In his emails, Ciccone compared Williams to Megan Murphy, a feminist speaker known for criticizing the transgender agenda. Murphy's events also faced censorship when community centers declined to host her due to her pro-woman views. Williams, however, took this comparison as an honor and shared her thoughts on social media.

Debates on Hosting the Event

Library management engaged in discussions on how to avoid hosting the event, particularly since SAFS had previously rented space from the London Public Library in 2019. Library spokesperson Ellen Hobin suggested that SAFS and Williams should be informed about the library's code of conduct, especially regarding hate speech if they were to be granted the space. Despite the library having hosted SAFS in the past, the situation remained delicate.

Ciccone contemplated denying SAFS the space based on a technicality, as they indicated they lacked third-party insurance, a requirement for booking space. However, Hobin noted that the library offered a package for such insurance through the City of London, which most renters typically utilized. Hobin also reconsidered denying entry based on the "hate speech" provision, expressing concerns about Williams's work potentially pushing the boundaries of hate speech.

Williams's Response

The decision to deny space for the event received widespread condemnation from Joanna Williams, who remarked, "Justifying censorship on the basis that defending women's rights is a 'far right' position is a slur not just against me but against a century of feminism. The London Public Library has behaved shamefully."

An Ironic Turn of Events

Ironically, shortly after the library denied space for Williams's talk, they accepted a booking by Palestinian comedian Amer Zahr, known for his explicit support of violence and association with designated terrorist groups. Library officials, who had previously refused Williams a platform, worked to ensure that Zahr's event would proceed without cancellation, citing concerns about offending the London Muslim community and potential violations of the performer's rights.

In conclusion, the controversy surrounding the London Public Library's refusal to host Joanna Williams's talk highlights the ongoing debate over freedom of speech and the handling of controversial ideas in public spaces. The library's decision has sparked discussions about the limits of free speech and the importance of accommodating diverse perspectives, even when they are deemed controversial.

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