The British Columbia Library Association has sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty expressing concern about "the unprecedented curtailment of civil liberties that took place in the June 2010 meeting of the G20 in Toronto" and calling for a full public inquiry.
This statement helps raise awareness of how the core library value of intellectual freedom, (as stressed in the CLA Intellectual Freedom Statement) is broader in purview than the often cited examples of challenges to library collections, meeting room policies and open Internet access policies. While these traditional library IF issues are indeed crucial, BCLA's statement serves as an important reminder that threats to Intellectual Freedom are not always contained within the institutional boundaries of the library.
A broad coalition of civil rights, student, and labour groups issued an open letter similarly expressing concern about civil liberties violations and calling for a full public inquiry. While the joint statement was supported by a number of labour groups whose affiliates represent library staff, BCLA is the first professional library association to weigh in on the issue. For its part, the Canadian Library Association has remained silent, despite an earlier recommendation from its Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom (of which I am a member).
Here is the full text of BCLA's letter. . .
July 16, 2010
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Dear Prime Minister Harper and Premier McGuinty:
On behalf of the British Columbia Library Association, we are writing to express our deep concern over the unprecedented curtailment of civil liberties that took place at the June 2010 meeting of the G20 in Toronto.
The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is a non-profit, independent, voluntary association. Our more than 800 members include librarians, library personnel, library trustees and other interested individuals; corporate, government, school and academic libraries; publishers and library supply companies.
Intellectual freedom is one of the core values of librarianship. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedomsguarantees the rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly. International meetings are an occasion for people to express their agreement or disagreement with their leaders. While Canada was hosting world leaders to discuss global policy, it had a duty to uphold the right of people to be heard and to congregate, while ensuring the safety of the host community and gathered political leaders. Members of the public should have been encouraged to actively participate in the debate and discussion. Instead, the extraordinary powers granted to police, as well as the massive level of security, severely limited the space for democratic expression and, according to Amnesty International Canada, “cast a chill over citizen participation in public discourse”.
Over the course of the G20 Summit, more than 1000 people were arrested, more than any other event in Canada’s history. Of particular concern are reports that numerous journalists were arrested, detained and constrained in the course of reporting on the meeting and demonstrations. The media play a critical role in preserving democracy by bearing witness and documenting events. Actions that curtail the media’s ability to do so severely limit the ability of citizens to hold their government to account. While overall arrests include those of people involved in vandalism or other property damage, the vast majority appear to have been arrested while exercising their constitutionally protected rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression; some were random, uninvolved passers-by. These arrests appear to have been a strategy of preventative detention, infringing on important Charter rights with respect to due process. There are numerous, credible reports of police assaulting and intimidating peaceful protestors, including allegations of excessive force during arrests and the use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, and mounted police against peaceful demonstrators. The clear effect of the G20 security approach was that many individuals felt unable, or afraid, to exercise these rights.
BCLA urges the Government of Ontario to review the impact of Ontario Regulation 233/10 on intellectual freedom, including the people’s right to express their intellectual position, and its impact on the media’s right to report multiple perspectives on major international events happening within Canada. The regulation was enacted under the Public Works Protection Act of 1939, a wartime statute conferring special powers on guards of specifically designated buildings and other sensitive facilities, giving them broad power to interrogate persons approaching or seeking access to them, as well as the power to search without warrant, to demand identification, and to arrest anyone not cooperating with these special powers. While the threat of Axis sabotage was real enough in 1939, the measure was never revoked after the World War II, nor were its broad extension provisions limited, and so it has remained on the books into the Charter era. Prior to the Summit, the Ontario cabinet used this unusually antiquated regulatory provision to extend the definition of a “public work” to include the entire geographical area within the periphery of the security fence that had been arbitrarily delimited and erected for the current summit. Even though the Legislature of Ontario was in session at the time, this extraordinary measure was undertaken without parliamentary debate or notice to the public or the press.
It is essential for Canada to learn from what took place during the G20 weekend. The only way for Canadians to understand exactly what transpired is through an independent public inquiry, held jointly by the Ontario and Federal governments. Such an inquiry must include opportunities for public input and participation, and produce findings that are released to the public. The inquiry should consider the impact of security measures on the Charter rights of citizens to freedom of assembly, association, expression, and due process.
In summary, the BCLA asserts that the legal and moral rights of all Canadians to peacefully engage in expressive freedoms on public streets in civil society are an important right afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and must not be abridged.
Marjorie Mitchell Jon Scop
President, BCLA Chair, BCLA Intellectual Freedom Committee