For some reason I thought Canadians were about as tolerant as it was possible to be. If you drive through Canada with a big bumper sticker saying "Canadians are Stupid Perverts," the worst that will happen is that someone will say you should have one in French as well, so as not to offend the Quebecois. Everyone is so nice, and other than their misplaced faith in socialism and Tim Horton’s about the only strong opinion ever expressed is that it’s a shame more Americans don’t realize how many famous show biz people are actually Canadian. Thus, I was surprised by this story, where we find out the Vancouver Public Library has actually banned a group from speaking.
Some group called Exit International wanted to give a public talk telling people how to commit suicide, and the library director was afraid that if anyone did commit suicide the library could be held liable. According to the criminologist in need of a haircut pictured with the article, it’s not illegal to talk about committing suicide. That should have been more or less obvious to the library director, since they have books on the subject in the library.
One might wonder why a group would talk about this, or why anyone would show up to listen. After all, it’s not that hard to commit suicide. People do it all the time. Maybe if you’re a quadriplegic, it’s difficult, but otherwise not so much. Since this is one of the few things men seem to be demonstrably better at than women, it might be worthwhile to take a lesson from them. Let’s call it the Hemingway Lesson. Load shotgun. Aim at head. Pull trigger. Messy, but effective. It’s only these touchy-feely medical types who try to make everything so complicated.
According to the article, "The group had booked library space for a public information meeting as well as a ‘practical workshop’ restricted to ‘rational people’ 50 years and older who are considering suicide. It was the second session Whitney had problems with." Maybe the librarian was afraid that the "practical workshop" would be a little too practical, that Exit International would start handing out poison or loaded shotguns, and the over-50 crowd would decide that it was much more "rational" to commit suicide in the library where their relatives didn’t have to clean up the mess.
If this were in America, I wonder if the ALA would be all over this. Is there a policy on banned speakers as there is on band books? Are theVancouverites (Vancouverians ?) in danger of losing their intellectual freedom because this group can’t speak at the library? The director of the Exit International would seem to think so. "The library is a place where one would expect the freeimpartation and discussion of ideas and information," he said.
Some Canadians apparently think it’s a problem as well: "the B.C. Civil Liberties Association will meet with the library board tomorrow [i.e., today] in hopes of overturning the decision. But what could they argue? Is it a civil right to tell people in a public library how to commit suicide? No one is actually abridging their freedom of speech. They can talk all they want, just not in this space. I’m sure there are other places in Vancouver that would love to have the suicide group. They could probably find a nursing home, for example. One thing less tasteful than talking about how to kill yourself in a library is talking about it in a nursing home, but tastefulness isn’t the top priority here. After all, Exit International has merchandise to peddle, and how can they peddle that if they can’t speak in the library?
I suggest that the Vancouver library offer a compromise and agree to buy some of the Exit International merchandise. They could buy The Peaceful Pill Handbook for $35 and make it available free for everybody! It’s already gotten a good review. According to the Exit International website, it was "described by Australian Penthouse as ‘intelligent’ and ‘reasoned,’ and there’s no better book reviewing authority than an Aussie porn magazine.
The Exit International website says that "the print edition of the Peaceful Pill Handbook is now banned from sale in Australia. A censored edition of the Peaceful Pill Handbook was finally approved for sale in New Zealand in June 2008 and may be obtained from bookstores nationally." [Note to the ALA OIF, that's what censorship looks like.] And this despite a porn magazine unqualified approval. Though if the head of EI and author of this book is really so concerned with the "free impartation " of ideas and information, why not just post the book online for free? It’d be pretty tough for the Australian government to stop that! And while they’re at it, they can post a French translation to keep the Quebecois happy.
Regardless, if this is a question of civil liberties, it’s Exit International that’s violating them. I think the librarian should absolutely ban from speaking at the library any group that discriminates on the basis of age. Hey, Dr. Death, the public library is for everyone, buddy, not just the over-50s. How could the library possibly support a group that would so openly discriminate like that? What about the civil liberties of those under 50 to attend this fascinating workshop on suicide and get the opportunity to buy stuff from Exit International? Who cares about their rights?
I do, that’s who!
Contact the AL: firstname.lastname@example.org