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Creeping Canadian Totalitarianism

Before we move on to muzzled Canadians, I wanted to thank a kind reader for sending in a screenshot of a library computer where the Annoyed Librarian was blocked from view because the filter considered it pornography. Kind Reader commented, “Yeah, filters work alright.”

Many a librarian over the years has wanted the AL closed down so that no one would be allowed to read it. Maybe one of those librarians has some sway with the filter company. A conspiracy? You might very well think so, but I couldn’t possibly say.

But now on to another odd story making the news here in libraryland: muzzled Canadians!

They’re not really muzzled, so don’t fear for their physical safety. They’re metaphorically muzzled. No, that’s not quite right, either. They fear being metaphorically muzzled. I have that fear, too, although it’s nothing compared to my fear of being metaphorically tied to a railroad track by Snidely Whiplash.

Nevertheless the fear is real, and the metaphorical muzzle is weirdly totalitarian. “Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in ‘high risk’ activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada.”

For most people, those activities would only be high risk is they personally had a fear of public speaking. They’re now considered high risk because the government has a fear of public speaking.

I couldn’t track down the full code of conduct, but some of the quotes in the article are eerie, like this one:

“As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities,” the code says, adding that public servants “must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted).”

That is one of the creepiest codes of conduct since the fall of the Soviet Union Library Association. So public servants in Canada now have a “duty of loyalty” to the country and its government, but also to “its elected officials”? And this extends into their “personal activities”? Come on, Canada. Personal loyalty oaths to political leaders went out with the Third Reich.

I always thought Canada was so nice and bland and democratic, and here the government is issuing codes of conduct that stop just short of creating thought crimes for its employees.

Then there’s the weird blending of the personal, the political, and the professional, all of which are bound together, just like in North Korea! Speaking at a library conference would normally be considered professional activity for a professional librarian, not a personal activity where they’d better watch what they say.

And it doesn’t sound like the code is just limited to professional “personal” activities, but to pretty much everything. Do librarian have to “maintain awareness of their surroundings” all the time? What if mom complains over dinner about her jerk boss at the archive? Can her children call the snitch line and turn her in for “disciplinary measures”?

Let’s see, I’m pretty sure there was another country that encouraged people to watch what other people said and report anything they thought the government wouldn’t like. Which one was that? It’s right on the tip of my tongue.

The weird totalitarianism continues. Read through these two paragraphs:

It points to the dangers of social media. ”For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified.”

“The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant’s duty of loyalty to the elected government,” says the code. “Only authorized spokespersons can issue statements or make comments about LAC’s position on a given subject.”

So a federal librarian or archivist posting a comment on Facebook about the LAC is now a villain? What if the statement is true? That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t matter to totalitarians. When unpleasant truths are exposed, the problem for those people isn’t the truth but that it was exposed.

And that stuff about “only authorized spokespersons can issue statements” is factually wrong and politically creepy. Anyone can make a statement about the LAC’s positions. I just made one. Are you trembling in your boots now, LAC? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, so much for freedom of speech in Canada. Between that librarian being sued by a publisher for saying mean things and the government trying to silence its own librarians Canada doesn’t sound like a good place to be a librarian at the moment.

Apparently the Canadian government is afraid of librarians, and any government afraid of librarians must be a wee, timid government indeed.

Since this is in Canada, and will have no effect on American librarian, the Socially Responsible Round Table councilor posted this to the ALA Council list: “If the policy described below is still in-place in June, we should take some action at our Chicago meeting.”

Ah, yes, the ALA Council should “take some action,” and then everyone could feel better about themselves for “fighting” injustice with absolutely nothing changing for the Canadian librarians or anyone else.

Or, everyone who finds out about the new code of conduct could call it out for the creeping fascism it is. It probably wouldn’t change anything either, but it would then allow a whole lot more people feel better about themselves.

I feel better already.

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Comments

  1. Oh Canada!!

    At least Canada is open about such things. In the USA, as Will Manley pointed out, American librarians who disagree with American Library Association policy regarding access of children to inappropriate material are effectively silenced without the need for any written code. See the link under my name for what Will Manley said. Sample: “Censorship – Perhaps the most career limiting move that you could make in the library profession is to refuse to toe the line with the anything goes philosophy of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom.”

    • Donn says:

      Thank you Dan. You are absolutely right! No one is allowed to disagree with the ALA if you’re a librarian. I still haven’t forgotten the fiasco over CIPA and how the ALA spent all that money trying to defeat it. Yet, they didn’t bother to ask the ALA members if that was what they wanted because of course, how could you be a librarian and be for CIPA? Talk about censorship….this is why after 12 years as a librarian, I still refuse to join ALA even though my library would pay for it as “professional dues”. If they would conduct themselves as professionals and actually keep an open mind, they would welcome uncensored opinions that differed from theirs.

  2. Benoit Hamel says:

    The Conservative government not only muzzles its librarians, it does the same with its scientists : http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/03/15/harper_governments_muzzling_of_scientists_a_mark_of_shame_for_canada.html .

  3. smalltownlibrarian says:

    There was an article about this on Infodocket:
    http://www.infodocket.com/2013/03/17/canada-federal-librarians-fear-being-muzzled-by-code-of-conduct/

    And at the bottom of the article, there’s a link to a copy of the LAC’s policy that’s been uploaded on ScribD:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/130187655/LAC-Code-of-Conduct-Values-and-Ethics

    You can read it there, or download your own copy. Might want to hurry. If/when LAC finds out, this might go away.

  4. Let me re-emphasize that this edict relates to federally employed librarians only, so most academic librarians (employed by provincial governments rather than federal) are OK. This code of conduct is not surprising in our current federal government’s policy of controlling its voice to the public. It’s less a censorship issue (so that the government can do what it pleases) than an effort to control the PR message of the feds.

    But, as a Canadian academic librarian who is free to say a lot, I find this federal government muzzle to be very disturbing and genuinely Cold War era policy.

  5. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    If any of you think that this country is immune to such a policy, why has there been a need to pass “whistle blower” laws? US politicians are always trying to stilfe dissent. Some are just more artful at it than others. Wasn’t there a story about a power hungry Salt Lake City library director who tried to snuff out criticism in any library communications?

    Canada is just displaying it’s usual efficiency by putting it into writing. Canadian librarians just need to do all their public speaking on Hockey Night when no politician will be paying attention to them.

  6. JNH says:
  7. the.effing.librarian says:

    someone might get you fired by saying you made jokes about big dongles.