Canadian Public Library Refuses to Screen Police Brutality Documentaries After Author Won’t Include Cop on Discussion Panel

The issue of police brutality is not just limited to America, and an author based in Canada aimed to spotlight that for his latest film series screening. But when Halifax Public Libraries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, got wind of the content, they wanted a police representative included on the panel.

The author refused, and that spelled the end of the series’ home there.

Alex Khasnabish
Radical Imagination Film and Discussion Series in 2018. (Facebook: The Radical Imagination Project)

Alex Khasnabish explained the issue on the Facebook page for “The Radical Imagination Project,” a research project that was founded in 2010 “as a platform to study, analyze, foment, broadcast and promote the radical ideas that emerge from social movements,” its official website states.

Although the project signed off officially in 2017, it continued spreading its mission in various ways, including the Radical Imagination Film and Discussion Series at the Central Branch Library in Halifax, where it’s been held for more than four years.

However, when founder Alex Khasnabish wanted to screen the docs “Profiled” and “Trouble 19: ACAB” this fall, the library balked, he said.

“After 4+ years of running the Radical Imagination Film and Discussion Series at the Central Branch Library in Halifax I have been informed today that my programming is no longer welcome,” Khasnabish wrote on Facebook June 27. “The reason? Two films that I had planned to show … deal directly with issues of racial profiling, police violence, and alternatives to policing. I was informed by the programming manager at the library that unless I was willing to have a representative of the Halifax Police Department as a featured speaker at these events that my programming was not welcome. All this was framed in the predictable language of ‘complexity’ and ‘civil discourse’ of course.”

Khasnabish further explained that when he said the presence of police “vet public vents” during the discussion and is “censorship,” he said he was told that was not the case. He also claimed he was “simply ignored” when he pointed out he was never told to have the other viewpoint included when it came to screenings focused on other topics like misogyny and climate crisis.

“I’m grateful for 4+ years of support from wonderful library staff and for the free use of library space, but I’ve done the work of putting the programming together, recruiting and paying speakers, paying film screening fees, doing the advertising, and more. … in the era of free speech wars I’ve been effectively deplatformed at the library for having the audacity to show two films about police violence and the connection between policing and dominant interests,” Khasnabish concluded. “Don’t worry fellow travellers, the series will continue in Halifax at a new venue. Details will come along with the fall schedule when I have them.”

As in states across America, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia has issues when it comes to law enforcement’s interactions with Black residents. Black men are reportedly three times as likely to be stopped for a police street check by police compared to their white counterparts, according to the Nova Scotia Advocate.

Despite his feelings about the request from the library, which said the author could host the screening for a fee, Khasnabish told CBC’s “Mainstreet” July 1 that police are welcome to attend the screening but they must “attend as individuals.”

In a statement sent to CBC June 28, Halifax Public Libraries CEO Asa Kachan defended the suggestion to include a voice from the police or the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“The library suggested this because of the importance of facilitating an open and uncensored community conversation around the issues of policing, injustice and violence,” Kachan said.

She added that the library aims to provide an equally weighed viewpoint that can then be shared with the public. She noted, “libraries are democratic, inclusive spaces.”

But for Khasnabish, having police present in the way the library wants could create a “chilling effect” on discussions. Specifically, he says that effect could happen on the communities most affected by police brutality.

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