2018 seems to be the year for freedom of expression lawsuits in Canada. Dr. Richard Thain has launched a lawsuit to defend his right to speak out in opposition to public funding of religious school systems in Ontario; Lindsay Shepherd is suing Laurier University regarding her academic employ-ability and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has announced a lawsuit against the Ottawa Public Library over a recent attempted screening of a controversial film (see JCCF’s news release below).
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OTTAWA: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) has filed a court application against the Ottawa Public Library, on behalf of Madeline Weld and Valerie Thomas. This court application challenges the Library’s decision to cancel a private viewing of the documentary film “Killing Europe.” This documentary discusses several social, political, and cultural topics relating to Europe. It includes footage of the documentary’s producer, Michael Hansen, interviewing various people to solicit their views and describe their experiences.
This documentary was scheduled to be screened on November 25, 2017 in the auditorium of the Library’s Main Branch, available for viewing only to those who paid for admission. The film’s producer Michael Hansen was scheduled to give a presentation following the viewing of the film, and to take questions from the audience.
On October 27, 2017 the Ottawa Public Library informed Ms. Weld that her booking request had been “reviewed and confirmed” by library staff. Ms. Weld paid the required fee on the same day and the Library provided her with a copy of the rental contract. On November 14, Ms. Weld received a telephone call from Catherine Seaman, Senior Manager at the Ottawa Public Library, who inquired as to whether the Ms. Weld would adhere to the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code. Ms. Weld responded that the viewing of the documentary would not violate either code.
During the same telephone call, Ms. Seaman stated that the Ottawa Public Library was “anticipating disruptions” and would therefore require Ms. Weld to pay for security, to which she agreed.
On November 24, Ottawa Public Library Chief Executive Officer Danielle McDonald emailed Ms. Weld stating that, “[a]s a result of a number of complaints that have been raised, Library staff have undertaken a further review of the presentation entitled, Killing Europe, which you have proposed to screen at the Ottawa Public Library’s Main branch tomorrow.” Ms. McDonald further stated that “it is my view that the content falls within the category of material that the Library is not prepared to have displayed or screened on its property. As a result, I must advise that the Library is immediately cancelling the booking in question.”
In a court application filed on June 11, 2018, the Applicants seek, among other things
- judicial review of the Ottawa Public Library’s decision to cancel the booking to view the documentary film;
- a declaration that the Library’s decision unjustifiably violates freedom of expression as protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to receive expressive material;
- a declaration that the Library’s decision is unreasonable, and violates the Library’s own policies, such as its Intellectual Freedom policy;
- a court order requiring the Library to re-book the auditorium for the viewing of the documentary.
“Public libraries cannot simply cancel a film screening because it does not support or agree with the views expressed in the film. Like all government entities, they must uphold the Charter,” explained Justice Centre president John Carpay.
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