A Canadian library has become the latest flash point over free speech as hundreds of protesters tried to prevent others from hearing the views of a feminist writer who has been critical of transsexual laws guaranteeing equal access to bathrooms and other spaces. To its credit, Toronto Public Library held firm in favor of free speech and refused to be bullied into cancelling the event. Nevertheless, police had to escort the audience out the back to avoid threats from protesters who objected to event featuring Meghan Murphy. It is a disheartening scene in a city with a seal professing “Diversity our strength.” Apparently, diversity of ideas is not one of those strengthens according to the Mayor and city council.
Murphy was speaking on her views of “society, the law, and women.
She supports transgender rights but not laws guaranteeing access to bathrooms. She told the BBC “Under current trans activist doctrine we’re not allowed to exclude a man from a woman’s space if he says that he’s female and I find that quite dangerous and troubling.” she told the BBC.
One can clearly disagree with that premise, but this is a debate that we need to have. Murphy has expressed her views in a civil and open fashion. She has not held back her strong views that the transgender activist movement is “regressive and sexist” and endangers women and girls in laws like the one pending on bathroom access.
In response, protesters have demanded that she be silenced and not allowed to share her views with others who wanted to come to the event.
City librarian Vickery Bowles released a perfect statement in mid-October defending the decision to host the event that said that the library would stand by the right to be hearing as a public institution with “an obligation to protect free speech”.
Among those opposing free speech is Toronto Mayor John Tory, who wanted Murphy barred from speaking. Likewise, city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton are calling for an investigation of the library policies. For its part, Pride Toronto warned the library “there will be consequences to our relationship for this betrayal”. The “betrayal” was standing with free speech. The effort to silence those with opposing views has become a core belief of many on the left.
I do not buy the convenient argument that silencing others is a form of free speech. I have previously discussed how Antifa and other college protesters are increasingly denouncing free speech and the foundations for liberal democracies. Some protesters reject classic liberalism and the belief in free speech as part of the oppression on campus. The movement threatens both academic freedom and free speech — a threat that is growing due to the failure of administrators and faculty to remain true to core academic principles. Dartmouth Professor Mark Bray, the author of a book entitled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” is one of the chief enablers of these protesters. Bray speaks positively of the effort to supplant traditional views of free speech: “At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase that says I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He defines anti-fascists as “illiberal” who reject the notion that far right views deserve to “coexist” with opposing views.
The mayor, city council, and activists in the Canadian controversy reflect the growing movement in favor of free speech controls growing in both Canada and the United States.