Despite concerns raised by Toronto Mayor John Tory and two Toronto city councillors, the Toronto Public Library has refused to cancel a memorial event in honour of a controversial lawyer taking place at the Richview Library Wednesday night.
Barbara Kulaszka, a former librarian turned Canadian free speech lawyer who represented controversial figures such as Marc Lemire – a self-proclaimed white nationalist and former president of the Canadian neo-Nazi white supremacist organization the Heritage Front, according to the memorial page.
Kulaszka died in her hometown of Brighton, Ont., after a battle with lung cancer June 15.
Critics have taken issue with the memorial as well as the speakers for the event, which include Lemire, and Paul Fromm, the organizer and another self-proclaimed white nationalist, who is also the founder of the Canadian Association for Free Expression.
Tory expressed his concern and said he issued a request to the Toronto Public Library staff to cancel the event but that he was informed “that the library has received legal advice that it cannot reject this room booking request.”
He added he has asked the library to have the event “closely monitored.”
The Toronto Public Library issued a statement and said they have taken the concerns seriously and do not tolerate hate speech, but that “cannot deny bookings from the community that are in accordance with the law and the library’s policy and rules of conduct.”
“However, should the group act in a manner that is not consistent with the law or our rules of conduct, please be assured that we will take immediate action.”
Counc. John Campbell tweeted he had also reached out to the Toronto Library and had spoken to the chief librarian but she would not “relent,” citing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom of Speech.
“It’s all well and good to advocate for free speech, but Toronto Public Library needs to demonstrate common sense on who gets rental space,” Campbell wrote in another tweet.
Sara Lefton, vice president of Greater Toronto at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs told Global News in an emailed statement that while the CIJA firmly supports free speech, “that doesn’t mean that publicly funded institutions such as libraries are obliged to provide a pulpit for white nationalists to promote their hateful agenda.
“It’s appalling and ludicrous that these individuals were given taxpayer subsidized space for an event, in light of their clear track record as leaders of a racist movement hostile to Jews, the Black community, and other Canadian minorities,” Lefton said, adding the CIJA has voiced their strong opposition to the library, the mayor’s office and city council.
Another Toronto councillor, James Pasternak, released a statement saying he was “deeply disturbed” to hear about the event as well as the fact that the group leading the service are selling tickets for $10 to attend.
“It is truly shocking that individuals who spread hatred, deny the Holocaust and have ties to neo-Nazi groups are being provided a permit by the Toronto Public Library to host an event inside a public building,” said Councillor Pasternak in a written statement.
Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told Global News “There is no excuse for allowing neo-Nazis use of publicly funded facilities such as the Richview Public Library.
“Parliament has banned these neo Nazis from speaking on the Hill as has OISIE.”
Farber added he fears that if the event is allowed to take place in the public library, it will open the doors for more events of the same nature.
In the wake of the event, Tory said he has asked the libary board to review its room rental policies for future use.