Corp Comm Connects

Markham Public Library apologizes after email suggests taking down Islamic Heritage Month displays

Employee email suggested library was going to pull displays, library says email is inaccurate
Oct. 17, 2023

Markham Public Library apologized on Monday for an employee email posted online that suggested it was going to take down Islamic Heritage Month displays.

According to images shared on social media of the email, Markham Public Library (MPL) was going to pull the displays due to the situation in the Middle East.

"The email is inaccurate," Catherine Biss, CEO of the library, said in a statement. "Markham Public Library regrets this occurred and we apologize for any confusion or hurt this has caused the community."

The email was addressed to branch librarians, branch managers and to staff who are part of what is called readers advisory.

"Given the current situation in the Middle East, it is best for us not to be actively promoting the Islamic Heritage Month, this will be perceived as if we are taking a particular side," the email said.

It goes on to say the library was asked to take down the displays by Bliss and an unnamed councillor.

"If you currently have any merchandising around this topic, please take it down for now. If you haven't put it up yet, please don't," the email continues.

The library's statement says Islamic Heritage Month displays are present in all of its libraries, given that October is Islamic Heritage Month, and will remain on display for the rest of the month.

"As a public library, it is our goal to unite and bring people together. MPL takes pride in showcasing the positive contributions of our diverse communities through displays such as these."

In a statement on Monday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, a non-profit organization, called for an investigation into the matter from the city of Markham. It also called for accountability from everyone involved in decision-making.

The council noted that there has been a spike in Islamophobic incidents since the Israel-Hamas war began.

"Let's call this what this. Islamophobia. Pure and simple," the council said in the statement.

"We do not think that those involved in making such a decision deserve to be on the city payroll any longer. We cannot tolerate Islamophobia -- especially not from our institutions. Period. There must be zero tolerance."

Situation 'upsetting,' says professor
Dr. Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, a sociology, criminology and criminal psychology professor at Sheridan College, called the email "upsetting" and said it's important to remember that a public library is a community space that draws children and families.

"To be made invisible at a time where it's particularly important to be seen, I think it is stoking fear, it's stoking hatred. It's making families and children and parents feel very targeted."

Public institutions need to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza and Muslim families need to be feel safe and visible particularly now, she said.

"These spaces cannot be biased in their messaging," she said.