Kingston Frontenac Public Library in Kingston, Ont. Photo/Courtesy of Kingston Frontenac Public Library, Facebook

Providence sisters help persuade library to revoke homeless policy

  • May 5, 2016

The Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL) will be withdrawing its new Patron Code of Conduct that some saw targetting the Eastern Ontario city’s homeless and mentally ill population.

While the library claimed the code was to ensure a positive experience for all patrons, immediately after the release of the document, many critics took to social media to express their outrage over the new rules.

More than 100 community members attended a public meeting on April 27 to express concerns about the “discriminatory language” in the code that the KFPL released in February. It had not yet been implemented.

“If you read (the document), it’s very clear that the language and policy is exclusionary and discriminatory,” said Tara Keiner, social justice officer from the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation office that works to bring awareness and protect the rights of the poor and the marginalized people in Kingston.

“There were over a hundred people at that meeting and not one person spoke in favour of that patron code.”

“Our public libraries are public spaces funded by public dollars,” said Sr. Frances O’Brien in a statement to the library board. “While it’s true that libraries are not homeless shelters and librarians are not social workers, the library could take another approach to those patrons it feels are disruptive and don’t fit in.”

According to the code, any patron loitering, sleeping or having offensive body odour would not be tolerated. The code also reserved the right for KFPL employees to evict people from the library and suspend their library privileges. Staff have told media there have been incidents where the behaviour of some patrons has prevented others from using sections of the library.

“I have been a long-time library user and I’ve been in a wheelchair for 37 years now and so I’ve come to understand that words like ‘accessibility’ and ‘inclusiveness’ are attitudes as well as behaviours,” said Wayne Westfall, a Providence lay associate who spoke at the public meeting.

“If we don’t believe that certain people have as much of a right to the library as everybody else and we kick them out, we don’t believe in that (inclusiveness).”

Westfall said instead of turning away these marginalized few, KFPL should be looking into providing these people with assistance. Many citizens at the public meeting stepped forward to offer help.

“One of the women who spoke... works helping deliver meals at the Anglican church hall nearby and she was wanting the library to make a connection with that place,” said Westfall. “It would be really important that whatever proposals come forth... are inclusive and have measures for dealing with people who they considered not acceptable. Have contacts with social work departments or that sort of thing.”

The KPFL board has said it will begin a formal consultation “as soon as it is feasible.”

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