Canada’s public libraries serve a critical function in a free and democratic society: providing all members of the public, regardless of financial status, with access to information (whether it be for education, news or entertainment) on nearly all topics and from numerous views. In recognition of the important public function they serve, our public libraries are mandated under provincial legislation, taxpayer funded, and, like all government entities, subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For the past 18 years, Mary Stanko has been publishing a community newsletter for seniors in the St. Catharines area. The newsletter provides information on local events, historical sketches, and editorials, often written by Ms. Stanko herself.
The St. Catharines Public Library has pamphlet and newsletter stands designed for members of the public to share notices and materials of an educational or cultural nature.
Over the past 18 years, each issue of Ms. Stanko’s newsletter has been has been distributed and made available to the public through the newsletter stands in the various branches of the St. Catharines Public Library.
However, in the Spring of 2015, the St. Catharines Public Library refused to allow Ms. Stanko to place her Spring 2015 issue of the newsletter in their newsletter stands. In the Spring 2015 issue, Ms. Stanko had written an editorial quoting the Charter and its recognition of the “Supremacy of God” while critiquing the abandonment of God in society. For example she wrote:
Yet, why are we law-abiding citizens allowing these Apostates and Atheists, who are in the minority, to install their undemocratic rule of terror in which mention of HIS Name has become anathema in Public Governments, their arms length Commissions, Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, Universities and some Secular Media?
. . .
How can our Highest Court debunk the above preamble to profess a theistic faith as “an interpretation of a freedom of conscience & religion that authorizes the state to consciously profess a theistic faith?”
Ms. Stanko appealed the rejection of the newsletter to the Library Board. However, in December 2015, the Library Board upheld its rejection, stating that Ms. Stanko’s newsletter was not educational or cultural, and thus could not be placed in the newsletter stands.
In 2016, Ms. Stanko contacted the Justice Centre, which wrote a letter on her behalf to the Library Board, explaining how Ms. Stanko’s letter was both educational and cultural and outlining the Library’s duty as government not to censor materials based on the content of the views expressed.
After consulting with a lawyer, the Library Board reversed its prior decision and agreed to place the newsletter it had rejected in its newsletter stands.