In what would seem to be the smart move for a library that values live customers, Vancouver Public Library has opted to cancel a scheduled workshop on how to commit suicide.
The Australian-based suicide advocacy organization, Exit International, has been denied the use of a room for the workshop to be held in early September. The booking was cancelled by city librarian Paul Whitney, upon receipt of advice from attorneys and the Vancouver Police Department. Whitney stated he was told: "In what, for lawyers, I would describe as fairly unambiguous language that the program as presented by Exit International would be in contravention of the Criminal Code."
Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code states that it is an indictable offense to counsel or aid or abet any person to commit suicide. The maximum sentence if convicted is 14 years, whether a suicide takes place or not. "This seems sort of, fairly clear to us," Whitney told the media. The two part workshop was to consist of a public discussion on the politics of the assisted suicide movement, and then a private lesson for persons over 55 years of age on specific ways to commit suicide that would include information about which drugs to take, how to obtain them, and how to ingest them. It was this private part of the program that caused the library to cancel the event.
Exit International is now planning to hold a workshop on assisted suicide elsewhere in Vancouver in early November. Meanwhile the group hopes the library will rescind the ban. David Eby, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the association will be meeting with the library's board of directors in an effort to have the ban lifted. He said the library was inappropriately restricting free speech by preventing the right-to-die group from discussing suicide methods with members of the public.
Exit International founder Dr. Phillip Nitschke admits his group's workshops are controversial, but says his organization wants to help the terminally ill decide when and how they die. "What we do at these gatherings is to, first of all, explain to people why we think it's a good idea to know how to kill yourself peacefully and reliably."
John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition British Columbia believes that the library made the right decision. He observed that carrying a book about an illegal activity is not equivalent to holding a seminar on how to accomplish such an activity. "I am certain the Library has books about robbing banks, making bombs, and all sorts of other illegal activity. Can we expect 'how to' workshops on these things in the near future and will the Civil Liberties people be lining up to defend the rights of those presenters too? People who give lessons on how to kill people, be it yourself or someone else, should be dealt with by the police and charged with aiding and abetting."
Criminologist Russell Ogden says the proposed workshops focus on content that is already readily available in other publications, including books in the Vancouver Public Library dating back to 1991. "We have the curious circumstance where the publication of the material is apparently fine with the public library but talking about it is not," he said.
Librarian Whitney stands by his decision to cancel the workshop: "Freedom of speech and access to information are core values for us, but having said that, the library was not prepared to be party to a probable criminal offense, which could result in the loss of life."