Canadian Libraries Maintain Integrity
by Collin Wynter
“‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.’”
-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA-FCAB) has maintained its stance on Intellectual Freedom, by retaining Abigail Shrier’s controversial book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, on public library shelves.
In a July 29, 2021 brief, CFLA-FCAB responded to the challenge to have the book banned from circulation.
Previously, Shrier’s book has been under attack by activists trying to remove the book from circulation. The Halifax Public library received two petitions demanding for the book to be removed because it contained “hateful messages.” The Halifax library’s manager of collections Dace MacNeil stated the book’s contents do not “constitute hate speech.”
Challenges to the book Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier- an CFLA-FCAB Intellectual Freedom brief– contained direct references to their Statement on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and citied the Halifax Library response.
Within the brief itself, CFLA-FCAB outlined their reasoning as to why it is important to maintain intellectual freedom in public libraries.
They acknowledge that “libraries’ core responsibility [is] to support, defend, and promote the universal principles of intellectual freedom, while safeguarding and fostering free expression.” And that the decision to retain the book “in the face of requests to remove it demonstrates the commitment to a diversity of thought in the development of library collections.”
To support universal Intellectual Freedoms they believe it is important to uphold the “interlocking freedoms” of “opinions and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Not only does the governing body, institution and employers have a requirement to uphold Intellectual Freedom, but so do employees and volunteers who “have a core responsibility” in regards to the “principles of intellectual freedom in the performance of their respective library roles.”
CFLA-FCAB is explicit in their commitment to freedom of speech, diversity of thought and integrity of the institution to uphold those values.
But not all agree with the above statement.
A private memo responding to CFLA-FCAB’s brief declared opposition to their stance on retaining the book and their defence of intellectual freedom.
They argue that using “Intellectual Freedom” as justification to retain a book that promotes transmisia does not reflect the “affiliated membership”. This reasoning does not mitigate the “myriad of challenges” posed to employees. And “does a disservice to the need for open dialogue about the concept and practice of intellectual freedom.”
The rare term of transmisia, which is analogous to transphobia, is defined as a combination of “prejudice plus power”; that cisgender people (individuals who’s sex in equivalent to their gender identity), have “institutional power” and thus enact “systematized discrimination or aggression.”
CFLA-FCAB states they support “controversial expression” as well as challenges to that expression. But they do not support “prior restraint” [sic] to avoid controversy around a topic. They note that freedom of expression is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also stand against discrimination and believe that freedom of speech is complimentary to that ideal.
The respondents, too, support the discussion of the complex issues surrounding intellectual freedom. But the statements released cause “active harm” to the trans community, employees of the library and community at large. And that “the humanity and fundamental rights to gender expression for tars people” is not up for debate.
In their background research they cite the erroneous claim that Shrier’s work contains “medical misinformation.” They also claim that the brief is in conflict of interest with CFLA-FCAB’s diversity and inclusion statement.
The respondents sign off their response with a staunch “not in out name.”
The Google Doc, which is now locked, was available to the public briefly. Screen shots were taken and posted on Twitter, which this article is based on.