Powell River Public Library receives legal warning not to cancel public event

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Powell River Public Library receives legal warning not to cancel public event

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CHILLIWACK, BC: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announces that a legal warning letter was sent on June 13, 2024, to the Chief Librarian of the Powell River Public Library, Rebecca Burbank, advising the library that it should not cancel an event organized by people opposed to the proposed name change for Powell River. The event, scheduled for July 8, 2024, comes in the middle of a debate over whether the City should change its name.

The event features speakers like Canadian political scientist Frances Widdowson, Powell River local and amateur historian Arthur Richards, and paramedic Ted Vizzutti, who lost his job after he publicly opposed the name change.

At the request of nearby Tla’amin First Nation, the City is debating whether to change its name to something other than “Powell River” due to Tla’amin’s claim that the city’s namesake, Israel Wood Powell (1836-1915), was involved in the residential school system. Powell was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in British Columbia in October 1872.

On June 10, 2024, the event organizer, Diane Sparks, booked space at the Powell River City Library and received confirmation of booking from the Library. Based on that confirmation, Ms. Sparks booked speakers. However, the Library then demanded further information from Ms. Sparks, including the panel topic, speaker names, and summaries of proposed presentations. Ms. Sparks indicated that Library Council consent would be required before the space could be “confirmed.” This, as explained by the warning letter, indicates that the Library is contemplating cancelling the event.

As a municipal library established under section 3 of the Library Act, the Powell River Public Library is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedomsin its operations. Section 2(b) of the Charter protects the fundamental freedom of expression. The Library may not interfere with the content of expressive activity.

Earlier in the year, in connection with the Tla’amin First Nation’s name change proposal, Sean Carleton spoke at the Powell River Public Library on the topic of “Who was Israel Wood Powell?” In his February 10, 2024 presentation, and on social media, Mr. Carleton said he agreed with the proposed name change. His event addressed what he called “complicity in colonial schooling” and the “origins of settler colonial rule in British Columbia.” The library permitted the use of its space for this expressive purpose.

Glenn Blackett, lawyer for Diane Sparks and Frances Widdowson, says “Quite apart from the Library’s constitutional duties, it would be a sad failure for a library, of all places, to suppress public access to information. We are urging the Library to respect citizens’ Charter rights and the Library’s legal obligations by allowing the event to proceed on July 8, 2024.”

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