For those not in Regina, there was a mini-controversy in the Queen City this summer when a lecture series by a number of U of R profs in downtown’s Victoria Park was censored by the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) after one of the speakers proposed to do a talk on Palestine. The organizers asked for a “balanced” point of view to be incorporated which led to a whole bunch of kerfuffle including the resignation of the RDBID’s employee in charge of the program.
The speaker series moved to a nearby art gallery but one of the profs – U of R Education prof and federal NDP candidate, decided that he would still give his talk in the park as proposed since it was a fitting locale for his subject – homelessness. (He also got in a nice jibe when announcing he’d still be presenting in the park saying he was hoping someone would step forward with a “pro-homelessness” position.)
It was a good talk with a huge crowd (which brought back memories of the fundamental rule I learned working in publishing and with the Calgary Freedom to Read Week – if you want to bring extra attention to something, censor it or challenge it. Why do the opponents never learn that??? I mean, had the series gone ahead as planned with no controversy, I bet most of these talks would’ve got maybe 10 or 20 people – half of them students or friends of the people presenting. Today, they had 10x that number and they’re apparently getting nearly that many over at the art gallery for the other ones.)
Which brings me to a related point around this incident. I think that it’s unfortunate that RPL missed a wonderful opportunity to step up in defense of Freedom of Expression when this all went down. Our Central Library, which borders Victoria Park, was already the designated rain venue for these events but it was an art gallery that stepped into the void when the series was moved. (To be fair, I think of myself as a big Freedom of Expression guy and I didn’t think to bring this idea forward to anyone at RPL until that move was announced.)
But the reality is that this isn’t a one-off either. For me, it feels like the second time in less than a year that RPL has come down on the wrong side of a freedom of expression issue. It’s also an unfortunate coincidence that the City has just given initial approval for RPL to move forward with the development of a new Central Library that would also house a local theatre company (which I think is a pretty cool, innovative idea with great potential.)
But it does provide some potential bad optics for those who will see this turn of events as the library choosing to cozy up to the city rather than risking their ire in defense of a vital core library value.