RPL leaders backtrack after recklessly banning Jeet Heer’s public lecture

City | Stephen Whitworth

Darrol Hofmeister

Jeet Heer: Why Are Canada And The U.S. Backing Israel’s Genocide?
RPL Film Theatre
Tuesday 25

NOTE: This story was written for Prairie Dog but since the censorship described is so wildly ridiculous we thought Planet S readers (who have enough trouble in their own city) might find it amusing. –Editor

Regina’s reputation took a hit this past weekend. Did I say a hit? More like the latest chart-topper in the Queen City’s never-ending hit parade of self-inflicted damage.

And as usual, it comes courtesy of yet another bungled decision by bigshots in Regina’s so-called decision-making class.

On Friday, June 21, organizers of an upcoming public lecture at the Regina Public Library Central Branch announced on social media that their event had been cancelled by the RPL.

The banned lecture’s topic: an analysis of Canada/U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. The lecturer: Regina-based journalist and public intellectual Jeet Heer, a foreign affairs writer for The Nation — an American magazine read by Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and 100,000 other leaders, thinkers, activists and generally smart people.

Did Heer’s obvious bona fides matter? Pfft. Of course not.

“Regina Public Library has decided to cancel your rental booking on behalf of Palestine Solidarity in Regina of the RPL Film Theatre for June 25th, 2024,” read an RPL e-mail provided to Prairie Dog by organizers.

The explanation?

“A statement posted online by Palestine Solidarity in Regina about this event is contravening our room rental agreement because it has the likely effect of promoting discrimination,” the e-mail continued.

That “statement” was apparently a June 17 social media post accusing opponents of the lecture of tearing down promotional posters and lobbying city councillors to cancel it. Which the RPL ultimately did.

Kinda makes Palestine Solidarity in Regina’s censorship concerns look reasonable, doesn’t it?

Before we go any further: the problem has been ‘resolved’ in typically incoherent, “we found a face-saving technicality” Regina fashion. City Councillor Dan LeBlanc booked the theatre under his name. Jeet Heer’s talk is still on tonight at 7:00.

But the fact this happened at all is still a big, big problem.

Our library censoring a free public lecture is exactly the kind of nonsense that reinforces Regina’s (and Saskatchewan’s) image as a dimwit-infested flyover backwater. That may not be a fair or accurate characterization but it’s the perception many — both in and outside the province — will, once again, have.

In marketing terms, it’s another blemish on our city’s ‘brand’, much like the 2023 “show us your Regina” slogan, or the recent hospital foundation event that booked a transphobic, Trump-supporting anti-vax ‘comedian’ for a major fundraiser.

How on earth do these decisions keep getting made? How did Regina leaders manage to step on yet another face-smacking rake?

First off: did anyone at the RPL pause to consider the optics of a library shutting down a free public lecture? Even more than universities, libraries are bastions of free speech in democratic societies. Access to a range of ideas and information is what they’re all about. Censorship is antithetical to that function, and a lot of people will fight against it.

Second: did anyone behind this ill-considered decree bother to google the speaker? This will apparently be news to RPL bigshots, but Jeet Heer might be the province’s best-known public intellectual… outside of Saskatchewan, anyway. Beyond his prolific magazine writing, Heer famously popularized the numbered, multi-post Twitter essay. And speaking of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Jeet has roughly a quarter  million followers — a total greater than this city’s population. And now they all know about Regina, Saskatchewan’s latest boneheaded move.

Heer also wrote about it on The Nation’s website in a column titled “I’ve Just Been Canceled For Talking about America’s Israel/Palestine Policy!” He called it “penny-ante bullying”. This is NOT the kind of press Regina needs.

The conclusion to draw is that once again, many people in charge of this city don’t seem know much about it beyond their insular social circles. They don’t know what — and who — we have here. They seem oblivious to citizen assets such as experts, activists, intellectuals and creatives, and undervalue non-sport public institutions.

This needs to change.

Every Reginan should be appalled by the reputational damage these decisions do to our city. It’s time for fresh voices on public boards, in public institution director’s chairs and most of all in city hall, which needs fewer representatives from the business community and more people with intelligence, imagination and vision.

Until that happens, “go Riders”, I guess.