If you want to discover the limits of free speech nowadays, talk about sex and gender, says Joanna Williams, whose upcoming talk on free speech and gender ideology has been cancelled by an Ontario public library. She writes for Spiked:
On social media, on a university campus or in the public square, try saying that a woman is an adult human female, men cannot become women and there is no such thing as a transgender child. The response will be immediate and, sadly, predictable. There will be protests, perhaps police intervention and, almost always, censorship.
This was the point I planned to make in a public lecture organised by Canada’s Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) later this week. This open lecture, free for anyone to attend, was to be held at the London Public Library in Ontario. Not any more. In an irony clearly lost on the library’s managers, they have cancelled my talk about censorship. They have stopped me from saying that discussions of sex and gender are routinely censored. In doing so, they have stopped members of the public from discussing one of the most fundamental issues of our time. And they have clearly proven my point.
The London Public Library has provided a textbook illustration of contemporary censorship. Email exchanges between SAFS and the library managers reveal the bureaucratic ways in which censorship is now often enforced. The library’s managers first asked Mark Mercer, the SAFS president and event organiser, to provide an “assessment” of the event by reviewing the lecture content and presentation slides. I am delighted to report that Mercer, a philosophy professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, did not give in to this request. In making such demands, institutions reveal their double standards: some people get to speak freely without having to submit their work in advance, while others need to be monitored and pre-approved. Having to submit transcripts of public lectures hands enormous power to bureaucrats. They get to act as both judge and jury in determining what can be said or heard.
Keen for the event to go ahead, Mercer sent the library managers links to filmed clips of other talks I had given. Here we saw a second censorious tactic come into play: delay. It took nine days for the library’s meetings and events coordinator to reply with a default non-response: “As per the library’s policy governing room rentals, we are not able to approve the rental request.” This was a political decision hidden behind ‘policy’. It made it seem as if censoring this event is merely a case of ‘computer says no’. When in reality, it was actual people objecting to the views of a particular speaker.
Eventually the library explained that that SAFS annual lecture would likely pose “a risk or likelihood of physical danger to participants or the audience or misuse of the property or equipment”; that it could “negatively impact or impede the ability of others to enjoy the services and facilities of the library, and/or library operations”; and that the lecture was “likely to be in violation of library policy, including, but not limited to, the library’s rules of conduct, charter of library use or workplace harassment and sexual-harassment prevention policies”. Weaselley bureaucratic excuses for censorship, in other words.
Thankfully an alternative venue was found for the talk.
Read More: Talk on Censorship Censored in Canada