Vancouver Library urged to rescind security fee for Meghan Murphy lecture

The Justice Centre has sent a legal warning letter to Julia Morrison, Acting Director of Corporate Services and Facilities at the Vancouver Public Library.  The letter asks the Library to reverse its unlawful decision to move a scheduled lecture by feminist commentator Meghan Murphy to after-hours and impose a “security fee” on the event organizers in the amount of $2,047.50.

Meghan Murphy is the founder and editor of Feminist Current, a popular Canadian feminist website.  A resident of Vancouver, Murphy regularly engages in public discourse on the subjects of sex, sexuality, gender and public policy.  She holds a Master’s degree from Simon Fraser University.

On November 14, 2018, Vancouver residents Holly H. and “A.H.” booked the Alice Mackay room at the Central Library, to hold the event “Meghan Murphy in Vancouver,” as a forum for the Vancouver public to learn more about Murphy’s ideas.

On November 28, the Library’s Chief Librarian issued a statement regarding the event in which she stated that the Library “does not agree with the views of the Feminist Current,” that “Meghan Murphy’s opinions are concerning” and that it is difficult for VPL staff “to accept a rental from an organization whose perspectives we disagree with”.  The statement was also tweeted by the Library’s Twitter account.

On December 3, Julia Morrison wrote to the organizers, stating, in part, that “[the] event has attracted significant attention and we have been advised that there will likely be public protests against the event at or near the Library.”  Morrison demanded that the event start no earlier than 9:30 p.m., after the Library had closed, instead of the convenient 6:30 p.m. time that had been booked.  Morrison further demanded payment of $2,047.50 for “additional security guards” in order “to ensure safety.”  

On December 7, the organizers informed Ms. Morrison they had hired seven security guards, who would be present for the duration of the Event.  Ms. Morrison was not satisfied, and continued to demand the $2,047.50 “security fee”.  On the same day, December 7, Ms. Morrison wrote back to the organizers, thanking them “for your additional note about the security that you have arranged, in addition to the funding that we require for the security that we will be putting in place for the event.”

The Justice Centre’s letter, sent on December 14, 2018, notes that the Library is a government-run institution that is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including an obligation to protect and uphold section 2(b) – freedom of expression. As a government entity, it was improper to issue a statement taking sides in a societal debate, and publicly stating that the Library disagreed with Ms. Murphy.  That is not the role of the state or of any public body such as the Vancouver Public Library.

The letter further explains that the Library is not lawfully permitted to limit expression except in accordance with the hate speech provisions contained in section 319 of the Criminal Code, or if the expression is so obscene or indecent as to cause harm incompatible with society’s proper functioning. The Library has acknowledged that there is “no indication” that Meghan Murphy will engage in criminal hate speech during her event.

“The possibility of “protests” and unsupported fears about “safety” do not justify the limitations of free expression occasioned by the Demands,” concludes the letter.

The Justice Centre has given the Library until Friday, December 21 to respond to its request.