This evening, I went down to the Vancouver Public Library’s main branch to hear Greg Felton talk. Now, I have to admit that even writing that sentence makes me feel slightly queasy. But this post isn’t going to be a dissection of Felton’s views. You can Google his name & find those out easily enough.
In my mind, there is no question that the library should have gone ahead with this event, despite the high profile opposition to it (see Terry Glavin’s article in the Vancouver Sun (http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=8f4a3c29-1ad4-43fc-bb49-b627feac1810) and City Librarian Paul Whitney’s response to it (http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/letters/story.html?id=ac7a78ce-2298-40d7-9bea-647e8c66014a)). Freedom of expression means standing up for everyone’s right to free speech, whether it’s something that’s easy to defend personally, or views that I consider puerile or repugnant. Sure, it would be nice to be able to defend Maxine’s Tree or One Dad, Two Dads.. all the time, but that would be missing the point, right?
There was a depressing predictability about Felton’s presentation, and most of the audience had heard it before: either because they support his position or oppose it. At one point, I counted 3 sleepers in an audience of 80-odd. The debate section was livelier, but most of the back-and-forth had a rehearsed air. No one seemed to be going to this event with an open mind, most people weren’t asking questions, and even when someone did, Felton frequently rambled off on another anti-Zionist conspiracy theory.
My favourite library moment was when a slight woman in bright clothes stood at the front, right next to Paul Whitney (who was taking some stick for hosting the event) and yelled, “Can you stop beating up the librarians?!”
This is the first time in a few years that VPL has put on a Freedom to Read Week event. That’s pretty depressing in itself (and mea culpa as a VPL staffer). The irony is that, at the same time that VPL is holding an author-initiated event that’s nominally given the Freedom to Read Week tag, the library is hosting a provocative, topical series called Speak Up! (http://vpl.ca/speakup/) that’s full of the kind of open-minded debate that gives intellectual freedom a good name. Library-initiated controversy. Now that’s a good thing!