Progressive Librarians Guild Toronto Area Chapter

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On 30 January 2015, the federal government introduced Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, into the House of Commons. The bill would give unprecedented authority to Canada’s federal security agencies: the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and other federal ministries to violate the rights of Canadians under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The concerns of many members of the PLG-GTA are mirrored in the statement by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) posted 5 February 2015[1] and the work conducted by two professors of law, Craig Forcese (University of Ottawa) and Kent Roach (University of Toronto).[2] To echo and reiterate the concerns of many esteemed and knowledgeable colleagues:

  • The proposed bill is excessive, unnecessary, and ignores existing legislation and protocols in place to deal with issues of domestic and international threats to Canadians that do not violate The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • The proposed bill unfairly targets dissenting voices in Canadian society who have a right to protest, assemble and critique Canadian governmental policy, industry practices, and social issues. To label anyone who “interferes with… the economic or financial stability of Canada” or causes “interference with critical infrastructure” as a “threat to national security” creates a chill on local, national and international social justice, environmental, indigenous rights and other protest movements who have a right to engage in established modes of protest and opposition to the status quo. In short, the bill places legitimate dissenting activities in the same category as terrorism.
  • There is no evidence that large-scale, unchecked government surveillance of large swaths of society prevents acts of terror.
  • The proposed bill lacks provisions for transparency and oversight of those ministries granted new powers to collect, aggregate and share personal information of Canadian citizens and residents.

As the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrian, states in his press release issue the day the bill was introduced:

Canadians want to be safe but they also care profoundly about their privacy rights. They also want government to be more transparent on the activities they undertake in the name of national security and they want to know why these are necessary. [3]

Members of the PLG-GTA encourages concerned members of the public to participate in National Day of Action To Stand Against Secret Police Bill C-51, this Saturday, 14 March 2015 to begin at Nathan Phillips Square at 12:00 noon. For details, see: https://www.facebook.com/events/413139418861169.

We also encourage concerned members of the public to write to their local M.P. to express their opposition to Bill C-51[4], as well as those Members of Parliament who voted in favour of the Bill.[5]

 

[1] https://bccla.org/2015/02/bill-c-51-is-unnecessary/

[2] http://antiterrorlaw.ca/

[3]https://www.priv.gc.ca/media/nr-c/2015/s-d_150130_e.asp

[4] To find the mailing address or email of your local Member of Parliament, search here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseofCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC.

[5] A listing of the votes during the second reading of the bill can be found at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HouseChamberBusiness/ChamberVoteDetail.aspx?FltrParl=41&FltrSes=2&Vote=338&Language=E&Mode=1

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Posted on by Anna


The PLG-GTA wishes to express its disappointment with the organizers of the 50th Anniversary Bassam Lecture by R. David Lankes on “Radical Librarians”, as well as its concern with the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at University of Toronto for the message it has sent in its handling of the response from the community.

The PLG-GTA believes the event should have been moved off-site from the University of Toronto. By not doing so, the organizers required attendees to cross the CUPE 3902 picket lines. This strike is about precarious labour - an issue that deeply affects libraries and library workers in all sectors. This strike is also about the teaching conditions and wages of the University of Toronto’s teaching assistants and graduate student employees who are important friends and users of Toronto’s many libraries. Solidarity comes in many forms, but a mainstay of solidarity is the choice to not cross a picket line.

It has been pointed out that the iSchool has been operating uninterrupted since the strike began, and that other professional development events have run smoothly without attention being drawn. Clearly, the notoriety of the speaker and the visibility of the Bassam Lecture was a factor in the outcry from the library community. However, it behooves the PLG-GTA to acknowledge that the iSchool has been sending a very concerning message to students and to the community allowing professional development events to continue while there is a strike. The PLG-GTA condemns in no uncertain terms the efforts of the iSchool to silence criticism on Twitter by reporting a parody account.[1]

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 5.03.56 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 5.04.24 PM

Library school needs to be a space for students to explore all sides of issues that affect them now and into the future. To be the “agents of transformative change” that R. David Lankes wishes to encourage, students need to be able to form critique, express dissent and speak freely without fear of reproach.

In terms of the lecture itself, the PLG-GTA is bemused at its use of the phrase “radical librarians.” The definition of “radical” that Lankes offered at the lecture was threefold: fundamental, extreme and wicked cool. We prefer the following definition offered by Merriam-Webster :

“favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions”

To co-opt a powerful word with a caricature is insulting to those who are trying to effect grassroots change in a system that is widely believed to be compromised by a flooded job market made up of increasingly precarious labour conditions. The assertion that we are typically “unbiased agents standing ready to serve,” but should instead be “agents of transformative change” is contradicted by the circumstances surrounding this event.

Finally, the PLG-GTA wishes to explicitly condemn Lankes’ use of the term “riots” to characterize the continuing situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Choosing the word “riots” to describe months of peaceful protests in the face of systemic racism and injustice is precisely a symptom of the issues at hand in Ferguson, and beyond.

The PLG-GTA’s views are not a personal attack or criticism of students who crossed the picket line in order to attend the event. We take primary issue with the decisions made by the iSchool, the event planners, and the speaker who encouraged attendees to cross in the first place and in doing so also demonstrated a complete disregard for the implications of hosting an event on radical librarianship on the wrong side of a picket line.

[1] See exchange here: https://twitter.com/ischool_TO/status/575787002777505794 and https://twitter.com/ischool_TO/status/575785838451298304

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On February 27, 2015, teaching assistants at the University of Toronto went on strike and were followed by teaching assistants, contract faculty and research assistants at York University on March 3, 2015. While York’s contract faculty (Unit 2) ratified their new collective agreement on March 9th, 2015, the teaching assistants and research assistants (Units 1 and 3) at York remain on strike.

As members of the Progressive Librarians Guild (GTA chapter) we stand in support of the members of CUPE 3902 and 3903 as they advocate for improved working conditions within the academy. We are Toronto-area library workers who are concerned with social justice and equality issues, charged with the stewardship of knowledge, championing open access to information, and preserving common space. Some of our members work at the University of Toronto, and at York University, and we are all deeply concerned about the current employment conditions within these institutions and within higher education writ large.[1] As library workers we recognize that the casualization of work, particularly intellectual work related to research, teaching and knowledge production has a direct impact on student success, scholarship and wider educational systems and threatens the functioning of our democratic society as a whole. We also wish to draw attention to the gendered nature of the casualization of academic teaching and the over-representation of women in the ranks of part-time and non-permanent academic staff at Canadian universities.[2]

We thank the members of CUPE 3902 and CUPE 3903 for being willing to stand up and oppose the increasing stratification of labour and, by extension, the devaluation of learning and research conditions within Canadian universities. We call on the administration at York and the University of Toronto to return to their respective negotiation tables and bargain in good faith with those on strike.

Resuming classes, as we have already observed, has caused confusion and frustration amongst the student body, further disruption to an already chaotic campus, and put students and staff at risk (traffic backups, frustrated drivers, violent incidents, long walks into campus that prevent students with disabilities from attending classes). We encourage the Senate Executive Committee at York University to continue the suspension of classes until the strike is resolved.

We encourage library workers and all those passionate about issues at the intersection of information and social justice to support CUPE 3902 and CUPE 3903 workers by attending the Solidarity Rally to be held Saturday, March 21 from 1-4pm at Yonge and Dundas Square. For further information on the rally see: https://www.facebook.com/events/912967292067896/.

[1] For a more in-depth discussion of the issues facing the funding and work conditions of teaching assistants and contract faculty at Canadian universities, we recommend Zane Schwartz’s piece “Why U of T, York strikes are more than labour disputes” The Globe & Mail, 5 March 2015, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/why-u-of-t-york-strikes-are-more-than-labour-disputes/article23279298/.

[2] For a more fulsome reflection on the historical context, see Melonie Fullick’s excellent article “Past is prologue when it comes to contract faculty,” University Affairs: Affaires universitaires, 11 March 2015, http://www.universityaffairs.ca/opinion/speculative-diction/past-is-prologue-when-it-comes-to-contract-faculty/.

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This is a casual meeting, and all are welcome, especially people in town for OLA.

When: Friday, January 30th, 8:00 PM

Where: We'll be meeting at C'est What  located at 67 Front Street East. C'est What does not take reservations, so we'll have to take our chances on getting a table.

How: If you are new to PLG-GTA, we'll be monitoring the twitter feed for people looking for directions.

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The Progressive Librarians Guild (Greater Toronto Area Chapter) believe call on Joe Murphy to drop the $1.25 million lawsuit against our colleagues, nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey. O open and constructive dialogue around all the issues relevant to sexual harassment in our profession is necessary, not only to show respect to victims of harassment, but also to foster environments where all can feel safe. and in this particular case would be preferable and more useful than taking punitive legal actions. Using the legal system to attack Rabey and de jesus others serves only to circumvent necessary discussions and further discourages victims of harassment from speaking out. It creates a chill and it traffics in fear and the asymmetry of patriarchal power. This case is Such actions are an abhorrent reversal of the core values of the library profession to foster open, free and public dialogue around social issues. We also ask other librarians, librarians' associations, and other thinking people to support our colleagues, either by donation, sharing information, writing statements of support, and/or signing the petition. More information on #teamharpy can be found here and here.

Addendum [26 March 2015]:

It has come to our attention that colleagues nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey have retracted their earlier statements regarding Joe Murphy.[1] As per their request, we acknowledge the formal apologies Ms. de jesus and Ms. Rabey have made to Mr. Murphy, and the retraction of the statements. Also at their request, we retract our call on Mr. Murphy to drop his $1.25 million libel suit against Ms. de jesus and Ms. Rabey, as it seems the matter has been resolved, based on the formal legal statements provided by the defendants.

The PLG-GTA remains committed to the core values of the library profession to foster open, free and public dialogue around social issues, particularly those related to sexual harassment within the library profession.

[1] https://teamharpy.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/apologies-and-retractions/

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"...the #freedaleaskey collection [is] a web document, and social media archive containing news coverage, conversations, and letters of support surrounding the lawsuits filed by the Edwin Mellen Press against McMaster University's Dale Askey. These lawsuits, filed in June 2012, center around a 2010 blog post that Dale made criticizing the quality of scholarship published by the Press.
...
This archive stands as an important document in exposing and preserving this case in the public memory, and helping to ensure that this particular instance of aggressive legal action in the service of squelching free speech can serve as a teachable moment for anyone who values the intellectual freedom of librarians. The fact that it was made by librarians and archivists, using the traditional tools of librarians and archivists, stands as a testament to how important it is to preserve not just these documents, but our right to continue to do what we do..."

From introduction by Steve Marks, President of OLITA
(Ontario Library and Information Technology Association)

 

The PLG GTA was incredibly honoured to receive the Les Fowlie Intellectual Freedom Award from the Ontario Library Association for the #freedaleaskey Collection, a collection of public statements, publicly available press releases, blog posts, letters of support, online comments and more ephemeral elements related to the #freedaleaskey campaign that developed as a response to court proceedings filed by publisher Herbert W. Richardson and the Edwin Mellen Press against academic librarian Dale Askey in June 2012 and his employer McMaster University.

To be clear, it is our firm opinion that Dale Askey  deserves this award more than we do. His unwillingness to back down, his continued defence of academic freedom and freedom of expression, against what we consider a strategic lawsuit against participation by Herbert Richardson and the Edwin Mellen Press was, and is, absolutely inspiring. But, if he can’t have it, we might as well explain why we have done what we have done. The heart of the matter is this: we did this because we believe this is what we are supposed to do.

We believe that as a profession, both as librarians and archivists, we cannot, as Brien Brothman has cautioned, "abstain from cultural awareness and criticism"; to do so would be, in his words, "tantamount to professional irresponsibility."1 We started documenting, capturing and preserving what we saw happening online because we felt it was an important moment in time for our profession, and we didn’t want to lose evidence of the wave of support that rose to Dale Askey’s defence.

We are deeply humbled by this award and the public recognition of our work.  We will view it as encouragement from our peers to continue to advocate on behalf of the profession and our shared values of freedom of expression and public access to information.

 

  1. Brien Brothman, “Orders of Value: Probing the Theoretical Terms of Archival Practice” Archivaria 32 (1991): pp.78-100; p. 92.

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Deputation to Toronto City Council Executive Committee
Re: Toronto Public Library Budget

November 29, 2013

Councillor Ainslie, Honourable members of the Executive Committee, Nancy Marshall

The PLG-GTA is submitting this deputation to urge the City of Toronto to renew your commitment to the Toronto Public Library. Please demonstrate your support for this popular and valuable service by voting against any proposed service or budgetary cuts.

The Progressive Librarians Guild is a group of Toronto-area library workers who are concerned with social justice and equality issues. The group is a new voice in the Canadian library community seeking to influence progressive dialogue and political action in our communities and associations. Our members work in different types of libraries across the city and at different levels within organizations, a diversity that has allowed us to gain perspective about the repercussions of cuts on library users, workers, and management. While we understand the challenge of allocating budgets to the neglected infrastructure of other important services, any cuts made to the TPL will have far-reaching repercussions beyond the library walls.

The public library is the first place many newcomers to the city seek out when they need resources and information. The public library is a place where those who are unable to afford or access technology can write cover letters and apply for jobs. Libraries provide an environment where neighbours and strangers can exchange ideas, cooking tips, or legal advice. It is a place where those who do not feel safe or wanted are accepted, where they can access information services and programs. What other place does all of these things? For everyone. For free.

We urge the City of Toronto to continue its investment in the great intellectual infrastructure that is North America’s busiest library system.  The Toronto Public Library system boasted 19 million visits a last year, and had the highest circulation and visits per capita when compared to other large urban systems such as those in New York and Los Angeles. With this kind of profile and activity it is clearly a key resource for the citizens of Toronto.

Please approach the upcoming budget negotiations with the intention to preserve the library system as a vital resource for residents of our city.

Sincerely,
The Progressive Librarians Guild, Toronto Area Chapter

PDF

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