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The crusade to cancel my talk at Toronto Public Library

October 18, 2019

4:50 PM

This week, three Canadian writers launched a petition demanding the Toronto Public Library cancel a room rental for a sold-out event, ‘Gender Identity: What Does It Mean for Society, the Law, and Women?’ Sounds frightening, I know.

The local women organizing the event, a group called Radical Feminists Unite, asked me in June if they could bring me to Toronto to speak about gender identity legislation and women’s rights, unhappy that the debate was not being given space in their city. This is not an uncommon sentiment. The events I have been asked to participate in generally have been organized by regular women who have serious concerns about how gender identity ideology and policy could affect, and already is affecting, women’s sex-based rights. Canada in particular has been resistant to this discussion. Due to media blackouts, harassment, bullying, threats of violence, smear campaigns, censorship, and ostracization, a few brave women have had to force the conversation, at great risk.

In January, a couple women took it upon themselves to organize an event in Vancouver, ‘Gender Identity Ideology and Women’s Rights.’ These women had no budget, no public or political power, no history in activism or organizing events, and no agenda, other than to open up a conversation they feel is desperately needed. The panel, held at the Vancouver Public Library, featured me and two other longtime feminist activists with impeccable records fighting male violence against women. The organizers and I received numerous death and rape threats, were protested, and were libeled by politicians and the media. The VPL forced us to move the event after hours (to 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight), claiming that protesters posed a risk to patrons and staff. They attempted to charge us thousands in security fees in an effort to pressure us to choose another venue, surely aware we didn’t have that kind of budget. The chief librarian, Christina de Castell, issued a statement saying the library did not agree with ‘the views of Feminist Current,’ my website. Castell did not say which views the library disagreed with (protecting women’s sex-based rights or the idea that sexist gender stereotypes are not innate?), but regardless, she should not have taken a position, as a representative of a public institution meant to be neutral, nor should she have spoken on behalf of the VPL, as not everyone at the library is in agreement with her apparent opposition to both biology and women’s rights. Vancouver’s mayor labeled me ‘despicable’. Canada’s national public broadcaster, the CBC, located across the street from the library, refused to cover the event or contact me for comment, despite hosting a panel prior to the event, speculating whether panelists might say anything constituting ‘hate speech’. Of course none did. Despite protests, the event went off without a hitch and was incredibly respectful, inspiring, and galvanizing. The impassioned talks are available on YouTube for anyone to watch and see for themselves.

But why bother? Listening to words and forming an educated opinion based on said words is no longer a popular pastime.

Things have played out similarly in Toronto. The primary difference is that it is now writers leading the charge. You know, people who should be invested in reading and using words correctly.

Not only that, but writers of all people should be defending freedom of expression and a public library’s decision to uphold its mandate, which, per the TPL’s response to the petition, is to ensure meeting rooms are available to the public ‘on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use’. The statement goes on to say: ‘As a public institution, our primary obligation is to uphold the fundamental freedoms of freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.’

This response was unacceptable to the writers and thousands of Torontonians (many of whom I’m certain would consider themselves ‘progressive,’ even ‘feminist’) wanting my talk canceled. Indeed, those who have signed the petition, ‘Stop Hate Speech from Being Spread at the Toronto Public Library,’ have publicly stated I am guilty of ‘hate speech’ and compared the organizers to a ‘hate group’. The petition, authored by Alicia Elliot, Catherine Hernandez, and Carrianne Leung, reads:

‘Those who want to disseminate hate speech today know that they can misrepresent, then weaponize the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ in order to get what they want: an audience, and space to speak to and then mobilize that audience against marginalized communities. While everyone has freedom of speech, we want to once again point to the limits of those freedoms when certain acts and speech infringe on the freedom of others, particularly those in marginalized communities. We also want to point out that hate groups do not have a right to use publicly funded facilities to meet and organize. This is precisely why TPL has a community and event space policy: to determine who and who does not have the right to use its facilities. There is a difference between denying free speech—and what is known as deplatforming, which is when you refuse to allow hate speech to be disseminated in your facility. This has been an effective tactic to stop those who capitalize on spreading hate speech, such as Meghan Murphy.’

The problem is I’ve never engaged in hate speech. I have made very basic statements about biology, such as ‘men aren’t women’ and ‘male bodies and female bodies are different.’ I have also argued that some spaces should be women-only, including changing rooms, transition houses, and prisons. I have said that individuals cannot change sex through self-declaration and that a boy is not a girl because he prefers dresses to pants. I have said that women have particular rights in this world due to the fact of being born female. I have said that women have not experienced discrimination in the workplace, in the home, in universities, and in politics because of anything they feel or because they somehow ‘identify’ with feminine stereotypes. In fact, it is the desire not to be limited to gender roles that inspired feminists’ ongoing fight.

Usually, I say this all warmly. I’m not generally an angry person but quite jovial, in fact. I don’t spend much of my energy hating anyone beyond slow walkers and morning people. I’m just telling the truth.

The writers who initiated the petition say they will no longer participate in events held at the TPL unless the library cancels my talk, which is fine, I suppose. It is their prerogative if they wish to hold readings for their friends in spaces untainted by free thought. Surely the condos their parents bought them have shared rec rooms available for such gatherings? Cozy bubbles seem better suited for those needing to protect themselves from triggers such as people with different opinions and experiences, anyway.

The whole scene strikes me as nauseatingly elitist, especially the entitlement with which these ‘progressive’ people approach members of the public — in this case, women with no particular social, political, or economic power — as though they should have the power to determine what we all think or say. As though they have the right to dictate what a library, of all places, should allow to be discussed within its walls.

These protesters are primarily middle- and upper-class people who have had access to opportunities most people in this world have not. Who live in relative safety, free from state persecution — who have the privilege of freedom in a world that continues to host dictatorships and incredibly repressive regimes that quite literally jail and murder those who fail to toe the party line. They have taken a postmodernist theory invented primarily within the walls of academia — that is, the notion that material reality is determined by inner feelings — and are attempting to impose it on the general public via force. These people have taken on the position of dictator, threatening to throw those who won’t adopt their nonsensical mantras in jail. Indeed, a former politician with the NDP, Canada’s leftist party, publicly claimed the event was ‘illegal’ while her supporters said I should be jailed.

On Thursday, Toronto mayor John Tory said he had contacted the library in an attempt to have the event canceled and is ‘disappointed’ the library declined to do so. What is in fact ‘disappointing’ (indeed, appalling) is that the mayor of Toronto does not understand the TPL’s mandate as a public institution and opposes freedom of expression.

These leftists seem unaware that opposition to free speech has not treated their presumed heroes kindly. They have so easily forgotten Emma Goldman, who was imprisoned for distributing information about birth control. And Rosa Luxemburg, arrested and killed by the GKSD, a German paramilitary unit instructed to suppress the communists. Surely the suffragettes deserved to be jailed and beaten for fighting to win women the right to vote, as their ideas were deemed too ‘radical’, not only by their opponents but other feminists and abolitionists. They have apparently not paid much attention to the female activists arrested and tortured in Saudi Arabia for advocating that women be allowed to drive. Journalists continue to be murdered in Mexico for reporting on police corruption and the drug war. But no matter. Protecting free expression is clearly a relic of the past, before we had multi-billion-dollar social media companies on hand to police dangerous speech. (‘On top of that, she has been banned from Twitter for violating their Hateful Conduct Policy’, the petition reads, as though In Big Tech We Trust is an appropriate mantra for supposed social justice advocates.)

At what point in history has suppressing subversive speech benefited the marginalized? Or anyone, really?

The CBC again failed to include the organizers or myself, the speaker, in its ‘coverage’ of the event. On a segment that aired Wednesday, Gill Deacon, host of Here and Now Toronto, spoke with Elliot, who stated that I was ‘trying to take away the rights of people’, ‘preach[ing] against human rights’, and did not believe ‘transwomen should have protections’ under the Human Rights Act or Criminal Code, claiming this constituted ‘spreading hate’. That none of this is accurate was of no concern to Deacon or Elliot. The CBC sees no need to allow me to speak for myself and explain my apprehensions because, I assume, my arguments are so reasonable people might agree with me. While Elliot claimed that I was ‘lying’ when arguing that gender identity legislation could override women’s rights, this has, unfortunately, already happened, as we’ve seen men transferred to women’s prisons, where they have assaulted female prisoners; women forced to leave shelters and transition houses on account of being made to share rooms with men; women and girls made to compete with and against males in sport; women’s organizations denied funding for having a women-only policy; and of course as we’ve seen a number of estheticians dragged to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for declining to wax a man’s balls, because that man claimed to be female. What Elliot says there is no evidence for, there is ample evidence for. Which of course she would know, had she ever read my work, listened to my talks, or engaged in conversation with me, rather than using her platform to spout bigoted nonsense.

Ironically, if not for free speech, these individuals would not feel so safe to libel those they don’t like — which appears to be the go-to strategy of the Woke and Online. One wonders why they believe their speech should protected — even when hateful or slanderous — but not the speech of others. It is a modern hypocrisy I will never understand.

Unfortunately for these protesters and petitioners, the TPL will not be canceling the event, and I will continue to speak the truth in the face of threats, slander, harassment, ostracization, and actual hate speech. I will do this not because I have anything personally to gain from doing so but because I could not live with myself otherwise. I will not be silent while women’s rights are eroded, and I will not lie either under duress or to make friends. My integrity is worth more to me than my comfort or popularity, and yours should be too.

Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her website is Feminist Current.

Radical Feminists Unite is a Toronto-based organization of diverse women who work toward the preservation and advancement of the rights of women and girls. We have organized a lecture at a Toronto Public Library branch by Canadian feminist journalist Meghan Murphy, taking place on October 29th. We are not a hate group, and we do not espouse hate speech, or advocate for the removal of rights from any marginalized group.

We have invited Meghan Murphy to speak because she is respected as an important feminist voice, not only in Canada, but around the world. She has built one of the largest and most read feminist websites in the English speaking world, and has exemplified bravery and steadfastness in her refusal to back down on behalf of women.

Neither we, nor Meghan, are looking to remove anyone’s right to safety, dignity, and freedom from discrimination. We believe that these are fundamental rights that should be guaranteed to all human beings. With regard to trans people, and specifically trans women, we believe that specialized services such as rape shelters, prison accommodations, gender neutral washrooms, and other social programs should be available to meet their specific needs as a marginalized community. To state that we are looking to take away these rights, and that we even question the existence and humanity of trans people, is an outright falsehood.

In 2017 Meghan Murphy testified before the senate regarding the impact bill C-16 would have on women and girls. She focused on how we define men and women, what it means to be male or female, and how masculinity and femininity have been the tools of our oppression. She talked about the dangers of enshrining something as ill-defined as gender identity in Canadian law. Meghan pointed out that the ability for males to be accepted as women on the basis of their internal sense of gender identity, rather than being classified according to sex, has widespread consequences for women. We believe these consequences cannot be ignored and should be discussed.

Bill C-16 added Gender Identity and Gender Expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act. On the surface, this appears to be an important and progressive step for the rights of trans people. But this amendment actually comes into conflict with other protected characteristics also named in the Canadian Human Rights Act, such as the right to single sex spaces and provisions, and freedom of religion (for women who, due to their religion, are prohibited from sharing intimate spaces or coming into physical contact with males); as well as complicating rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as freedom of association, and freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression. A good example of how these rights compete with each other can be found in the case of JY vs Various Waxing Salons, which was heard before the BC Human Rights Tribunal in July, and is currently pending a decision.

Practically, we believe there is an important difference between males and females, and that being able to distinguish between the two in law is essential to the maintenance of women’s rights. This does not mean we deny the existence of trans people, who may experience gender and/or sex dysphoria and come to identify more closely with the gender roles associated with the opposite sex. We do believe, though, that a discussion needs to be had about how this affects women’s existing, hard won rights- specifically the right to single sex spaces such as prisons, changing rooms, rape shelters, and women’s sports. We also believe that the choice of Statistics Canada to record statistics by self-identified gender, rather than biological sex, will have a negative impact on the ability of advocates to track violence against women and trans people, as well as to know who commits particular crimes, and who the victims of those crimes are. As these stats are used by policy makers and private researchers, it is our contention that the accurate representation of sex in these stats is vital to the well-being of women and trans people.

This event, while now sold out, was open to the public, and will have a question period following Meghan Murphy’s presentation. We consciously priced the tickets at $5 each, so that the event would be as accessible as possible to all. It is our hope that this event will open a desperately needed dialogue among people who hold many different thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.

We are honoured to host Meghan Murphy here in Toronto. An understanding of biological sex is not hateful, and meeting to listen and discuss the impact of the collision of sex and gender in Canadian legislation does not amount to the promotion of discrimination, contempt, or hatred. We would like to see all marginalized people provided for, and think there are solutions to these issues of competing rights, but finding and creating those solutions requires an open and honest discussion of sex, gender, and the law. 

The VPS is not allowing both UBC and the VPL to participate in the parade because both institutions allowed controversial speakers to hold events at their venues on the basis of free speech. However, the VPS deems both speakers—anti–SOGI activist Jenn Smith and Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy—as discriminatory and transphobic.

The terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ get thrown around quite a bit these days.  I think it is important to note that as of late these concepts are becoming more of gatekeeping ritual than anything else.  Quashing and silencing critical opinion in the name of diversity is chillingly ironic, but it is happening and the latest example is in Vancouver with their Pride Committee.  I applaud David Cavey and his decision not to attend pride due to the totalitarian stance they are taking toward the Vancouver Public Library.  Vancouver pride actively tears at the laws and practices that have allowed events like Pride to actualize, I imagine because ideological purity is more important than the base principles of a free and democratic society.

What was the Vancouver Public Library’s crime?  Hosting an event that featured Meghan Murphy as a speaker.  Honestly, Vancouver Pride can take the expressway to ‘go fuck yourself’ at this point.  If your ideology requires the silencing and deplatforming of feminist critics then exactly how strong and just are the arguments that support your cause?  Not allowing your critics to speak is bullshit and is indicative , in my opinion, of an misogynistically incoherent set of beliefs.

In the Feminist Current Tonje Gjevjon writes:

“In Vancouver, federal Conservative candidate David Cavey announced he wouldn’t be marching in the city’s Pride parade this weekend after the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) banned the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Public Library from participating. Cavey has marched in the parade in the past, but took a stand in favour of free speech, challenging the VPS decision to ban UBC and the VPL for allowing speakers who challenge transgender ideology to book space for events. In a press release, Cavey stated:

“As publicly funded institutions, both are obligated to ‘host’ whomever wishes to rent their property — within the limits of the law. They don’t necessarily agree with the speakers. But to punish them for following their obligation to respect free speech, the exchange of ideas and intellectual freedom, is plainly wrong…

…We encourage other political leaders and campaigns to join us in taking a principled stand on behalf of UBC and the VPL on inclusiveness, free speech, intellectual freedom, and diversity of opinion and refuse to march in the parade unless its organizers reinstate these respected local institutions.”

He was promptly accused of “transphobia” by Nicola Spurling, a member of the BC Green Party.

When it comes to Pride, everyone is expected to join in, whether they want to or not.”

 

 

 

Free speech, or the ability to speak one’s mind in public without physical/material consequences, is one of the hallmarks of democratic society.  Now if everyone was nice, and peace ruled the world, I think the concept of free speech would be less problematic.

I’d like to talk about three ideas regarding free speech, the first being our responsibility in maintaining it, the second being the seeming incongruity when it comes to individuals who use protected speech to promote hate, and thirdly the tie in with Radical Feminism versus the gender identity set.

Free speech, like voting, or freedom of movement for most is a quality we often overlook in our daily lives.  We’ve always had it, it has always been there and there has been no reason to critically examine our responsibilities in context of the maintenance of our freedom to speak our mind in public.

Our collective casual acceptance (perhaps even apathy) in terms of the general public is problematic because it would seem that, until one starts feeling the push back when one speaks, the general collective sentiment is that there are no problems with the status quo and people can pretty much say what they want.  People in general though, are dumb and we should not be content with this lax stewardship.  Please see any social media platform that is open to the general public as evidence of such.

We hive off and create our own tribal communities and proceed to chuck rhetorical rocks over the wall at the other camps that oppose our viewpoints.  From what I’ve been able to observe, the process starts and does not end with regards to rocks being thrown.  Authentic engagement comes a distant second to outrage, manufactured or otherwise, and debate shares a similar fate versus trading insults and fellifluous comments.

Thank you, Social Media…

Social media has given us the means to exercise our right to free speech, but not the concurrent responsibilities that go along with placing one’s opinion in the public sphere, not to mention the intellectual responsibilities of offering fact based arguments and being charitable to the inevitable counter-arguments that occur.  So in a way, we are maintaining free-speech, just that the calibre of the discourse is absolute tosh.  Another unsavoury aspect of the current public chatter is that amplification of thoughts and ideas to such an extent that the nuance is lost, and the remaining message garbled as it is, is blasted out to the vox populi to take sides over and being the rock throwing process.

It is therefore unsurprising that many intellectuals and educated individuals want no part of the social media driven discourse.  It is a wrestling with pigs sort of situation.  However, the problem is that despite the raucous nature of discourse, it bleeds over into the real world and can and often does affect society, necessarily so.  It is distressing though, because although the speech is free and generally unencumbered, the signal to noise ratio makes dross the most likely outcome on many of the issues that make it into and out of the public social media sphere.

I’m not sure what we can do about that when we have a media and journalistic corps that are profoundly unable to tell the truth about what is happening in the world.  The state of the news media is a post for another though, lets leave it with the very basic idea that GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is a maxim that applies to our news media, and we as a society are suffering the consequences of a ill-informed public.

So free speech being exercised and maintained, but in a bluntly oblivious form that may not be beneficial for the advancement of society.  We can classify ‘hate speech’ squarely into this category.  This is a distinctly Canadian phenomena, so let’s define what hate speech is, via Wikipedia’s entry on Hate Speech Laws in Canada.

“The various laws which refer to “hatred” do not define it. The Supreme Court has explained the meaning of the term in various cases which have come before the Court. For example, in R v Keegstra, decided in 1990, Chief Justice Dickson for the majority explained the meaning of “hatred” in the context of the Criminal Code:

Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and of the values of our society. Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation.[4]

More recently, in 2013, Justice Rothstein, speaking for the unanimous court, explained the meaning of “hatred” in similar terms, in relation to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code:

In my view, “detestation” and “vilification” aptly describe the harmful effect that the Code seeks to eliminate. Representations that expose a target group to detestation tend to inspire enmity and extreme ill-will against them, which goes beyond mere disdain or dislike. Representations vilifying a person or group will seek to abuse, denigrate or delegitimize them, to render them lawless, dangerous, unworthy or unacceptable in the eyes of the audience. Expression exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification goes far beyond merely discrediting, humiliating or offending the victims.[5]

Sounds good, right?  The recent rise of the false populist-nationalist right in North America (and the world) has put considerable stress on free speech and what we consider to be hate speech because so much of what these ideologies espouse can be considered hateful, corrosive, and essentially banal in nature.

Should the speech of the false-populist right be banned?  Absolutely not, it must be challenged though, at every turn and shown to people for what it is.  And that folks, is a tall order because of the problems I mentioned earlier about our new preferred methods of debate and discourse.  Social media.  The false-populist messaging is simple and stirring and benefits greatly from the amplification in social media, but suffers little distortion because of the simplicity of the message.  The message being roughly this:

    “Right-wing populism in the Western world is generally—though not exclusively—associated with ideologies such as anti-environmentalism,neo-nationalism,anti-globalization,nativism,protectionism,and opposition to immigration.”

The messaging plays directly on the general populations fears, and allows the problems of the nation to be unfairly pinned on a subcategory of people who are vulnerable and easy to scapegoat.  False populist messaging can be countered, but the medium of debate works against those who seek to argue and debate false populist points because nuance and detailed refutations are not the currency social media deals in.  So instead we get catchy slogans like “punch a nazi” and the “alt-right” which are both statements that originated on the left side of the political spectrum, but are profoundly unhelpful in combating the false-populist ideology and messaging that presently, has a strong foothold in our social media platforms.

The medium really is the message – social media is polarizing – let’s look at this latest tweet making the rounds in the left-twittersphere:

Wenn ein Nazi am Tisch sitzt, und daneben 10 andere, die dasitzen und mit ihm diskutieren, dann hast du einen Tisch mit 11 Nazis.”  – (English Translation)-  “As we say in Germany, if there’s a Nazi at the table and 10 other people sitting there talking to him, you got a table with 11 Nazis.”

   What do we do with this?  The sentiment is good, one shouldn’t tolerate Nazi ideology and by sitting idle, one tacitly condones it.  But, what about free speech?  So many contextual aspects in this situation are rubbing up against each other.  Corrosive ideology has no place in a free society, but should there be a space for it to flourish in the public sphere?  Is the German quote appropriate for North America where there has been proto-fascist movements, but never in power?  Where does the argument for tolerance come into play, because this is at face-value, is most definitely an intolerant statement.

    Taken in the German social-political context, I have no problems with it.  However, throw it into the social media public sphere where it adds fuel to the fire that generally reverberates as “anyone who I disagree with politically, is a Nazi” and the statement becomes much more problematic.  Make no mistake, there is a large nuance vacuum on both the left and right side of the political divide (to both sides detriment).

   It’s too easy to simply brand someone a Nazi and demand their speech be taken down.  Yet, how does one actively guard against the rise of actual fascism and not curtail free speech in the process is a key issue in these debates.  False-populist ideology can easily careen into straight up fascism and the genocidal bent that goes along with it, so how do we deal with it?  I do not think there is a good answer, at least not until we get more public engagement and understanding in the social sphere.

   I’m a teacher so my biases lean toward more education and knowledge being a strong tonic against the mistakes humanity has made in the past.  Yet, all the cruelty and barbarism that has occurred (20th and 21st century) and is still occurring has happened under the not so watchful guise of an ‘educated’ public.  The answer might not lay in more education, but a social system that holds each individual to a higher standard of accountability and understanding of their role and responsibility within the world.  Something better than the “fuck you, I’ve got mine” mentality that has such a sure grip on the current social zeitgeist.

   Let’s make part three a separate post, as this piece is overlong already.

 

 

See the other award winners at the Quillette.

Pornography is not free speech. It is a teaching tool for toxic patriarchal values that hurt women. Need to start looking into the topic of the harms of pornography? This list isn’t a bad place to start.

  Longish essay on counterpunch, this pull quote doesn’t reflect the thesis of the piece, but rather something that should be concerning to progressives and people who want to see change in society.  The status-quo is resilient for a reason, and not taking that into account pretty much dooms whatever project you happen to be working for to failure.

 

 “It’s foolish to think that the failure of previous non-violent protests to change state structures can be blamed on the failure of the tactics, rather than the failure of the underlying politics in other domains. Those mass movements either did not achieve popular support, or, more poignantly, they did, but that support was coopted and channeled into an electoral theater and a political leadership that undermined and effectively annulled their goals, and turned energetic popular opposition back into apathy and acceptance. The transition from millions of antiwar protestors on the streets against the Vietnam and Iraq wars to <crickets> in the face of Obama’s Libya-Syria-Yemen-drones-around-the-world wars, illustrates that sad political dynamic.”

And there we have the problem folks.  The status-quo only persists because we allow it to.  Without changing the underlying political structures and features of a democracy, you can only count on one aspect, and that is ‘more of the same’.

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