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Libraries Face Libel Threat

Title: Libraries Face Libel Threat
Date: Thursday, 27 June 1974
Publisher: Winnipeg Free Press
Main source:

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The Church of Scientology of Canada has advised some libraries that they may be cited as party defendants in a libel suit unless they remove certain books from their shelves, Steven Horn, council member of the Canadian Library Association said Wednesday.

But, in an advisory memorandum signed by the association's incoming president, Belly Henderson, association members were told, "... the threat is potential rather than actual." The memo said, "In view of the objectives of the ... association, it may be desirable to retain the books in question on library shelves even though some risk is involved."

Mr. Horn said the church has told members of the association that actions for libel have been begun by the church against the authors, publishers and distributors of three books before the Supreme Court of Ontario.

The libraries were advised that if they did not remove the works from circulation until the courts had settled the actions, they could be cited as party defendants and be liable for damages.

The books are: Scientology: the now religion, by George Malko; Inside Scientology by Robert Kaufman and The Mind Benders by Cyril Vosper.

Two library boards in Ontario have been served writs.

In an interview, Mr. Horn said he did not see the church as a threat to intellectual freedom but that its actions were a threat.

"I regret they have decided to take these actions," he said, "That an individual can, by use of appropriate statutes, suppress a considerable body of serious opinion on a subject carried by a library for at least the period of time that the validity or invalidity is established by the courts is the problem.

"And if the original suits are settled out of court, the works may disappear in a kind of limbo without their veracity or lack of veracity ever being established."

He said the church has every right to sue critics who malign it for slander or libel but the group is also an institution in society and therefore, must be free to be criticized.

He said libraries are expected to present a "balanced perspective within the limits of its resources."

Mr. Horn said "If libraries are faced with a writ, we are recommending that they take appropriate legal action. We can only recommend and advise. We can't enforce it."

He said the library association's solicitors had been specially retained to represent its interest in the cases.

Ruth Hafter, chief librarian at St. Mary's University Library in Ontario, told a task force meeting that the library association should lobby for a better definition in the libel laws.

"I'm worried people will treat this as an isolated case when they should look at the implications. It is time to determine what the legal position of libraries will be."

Mr. Horn said later he didn't feel a lobby was necessary at this point.