Library censors and cancels documentary screening

Weld v. Ottawa Public Library

Library censors and cancels documentary screening

Weld v. Ottawa Public Library

On June 11, 2018, the Justice Centre filed an application for judicial review against the Ottawa Public Library on behalf of Madeline Weld and Valerie Thomas. The application challenged the Library’s decision to cancel a room rental for the purpose of viewing the documentary film “Killing Europe.”

The Justice Centre represented Ms. Weld and Valerie Price Thomas in their challenge to the Ottawa Public Library’s last-minute cancellation of a private viewing of the documentary film, Killing Europe. The showing of the film was initially approved by library staff in November of 2017, and then suddenly cancelled. The documentary discusses social, political and cultural topics relating to immigration’s impact on Europe.   The documentary’s producer, Michael Hansen, was scheduled to attend the showing personally at the Ottawa Public Library and answer questions about the film.

This documentary was scheduled to be screened on November 25, 2017 in the auditorium of the Library’s Main Branch. The film’s producer, Michael Hansen was planning to give a presentation following the viewing of the film, and to take questions from the audience.

On October 27, 2017 the 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 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.”

The Justice Centre was seeking, among other things, a declaration that the Library’s decision to cancel the screening 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, and a declaration that the Library’s decision is unreasonable and violates the Library’s own policies.

The Divisional Court heard oral argument on September 11, 2019 and denied the application. In their reasons released on September 16, the Court ruled that the decision of the Library to cancel a rental for a room ordinarily open to the public for the purposes of sharing and receiving expressive content was not sufficiently public so as to be reviewable by the Court. The Court did not rule on whether Ms. Weld and Ms. Thomas’ freedom of expression had been violated. In the fall, Justice Centre lawyers filed a  Notice of Motion for leave to appeal the lower court ruling, noting the issue had widespread impact, since public bodies often make decisions affecting citizens on whether to allow expressive content in various forums they operate.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms ( received a judgment on February 14, 2020, from the Ontario Court of Appeal, denying Madeline Weld the right to appeal the September 16 lower court ruling in Weld v. Ottawa Public Library. No reasons were given. This disappointing judgment leaves the questionable earlier ruling from the Divisional Court still in force. The lack of written reasons from the Court of Appeal on an important constitutional matter with broad implications for the public are troubling.

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