A library permit granted to a controversial Canadian group has Mayor John Tory calling on the city’s library board to review policies on which groups should be allowed to rent library spaces and for what purposes.
The Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE), referred to as a far right group, requested space at the Richview Public Library in Etobicoke for a memorial in honour of an equally controversial lawyer.
Lawyer Barbara Kulazska passed away last month. Kulazska had defended people facing hate crime charges and Holocaust deniers, including Ernst Zundel. Zundel, A German-Canadian writer and activist who has published books denying the Holocaust ever happened, was arrested, charged and served jail time for his denials in Canada.
“They have a record of being intolerant to all kinds of ethnic, racial and religious groups,” Berl Nadler, chair for the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs. “It seemed to be unusual, and outrageous, for a pubic library owned by the tax payers of Canada in a multi-cultural city to host that kind of event.”
Tory, along with several city councillors, also denounced the group, calling on the library to cancel the event.
“I am deeply concerned about the third-party meeting being held at the Richview Library tonight. I have expressed those concerns to the Toronto Public Library staff and asked for them to ensure this event is closely monitored,” Tory said in an email statement. “My office will be asking the library board to review its room rental policies in the wake of this event.”
The ward’s councillor also stopped by the Etobicoke library ahead of the start of the meeting, and had previously urged management to cancel the permit.
“People that have past histories of hate speech or hate-mongering, they should not be welcomed in our buildings, particularity in our libraries,” said John Campbell. “They should have just said ‘sorry, the deal is off.'”
The library’s manager said they weren’t aware of CAFE previously, and were advised by their lawyer not to cancel the booking.
“There’s nothing illegal that has taken place, certainly there are unpopular points of view that are very uncomfortable,’ said Ana-Maria Pritchett. “People are able to come here and use the space as long as they abide by the law.”
CAFE’s founder Paul Fromm criticized the mayor and councillors for trying to shut down the event.
“Some people might not like what Barbara Kulazska stood for, okay that’s fair enough, but to want to shut down a memorial in the woman’s memory? No,” Fromm told CityNews.
When asked if anyone in the meeting room had ties to Neo-Nazis, Fromm, who has been banned from Parliament Hill in the past, said “I don’t know any Neo-Nazis, I do know some national socialists.”
According to one man who was inside the memorial, there were about 25 people there who were speaking in both German and English. The man, who went by the name of Patrick and did not want to be identified further, also says a staff member from the library was inside the meeting taking notes.
Before the memorial was set to take place Wednesday evening, there were reports that protesters would be attending, but the event went on without any interruptions. The library had additional security personnel inside and outside the building, and several Toronto police officers were also present to keep a close eye on things.
The incident has highlight protocols that govern how city facilities are being used.
“How do you write down which groups are welcome and which groups aren’t? It’s a very fine line,” Campbell said. “Somebody has to make a call here, and unfortunately the Toronto Public Library was not prepared to make the call that I think they should have made.”
James Pasternak, another councillor who called out to the library to “cancel a permit given to hate activists”, adds better screening is needed for groups who use city resources.
“When these things occur, it’s a very sobering situation where we have to really look at how we process these permits, what groups are using them, what activities are taking place and what’s been said on site,” the York Center councillor said.