By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

VANCOUVER, September 22, 2009 ( – The Australian-based suicide advocacy organization Exit International has been denied the use of the Vancouver Public Library to host a seminar on how to commit suicide.

The group had booked a room for the workshop to be held in early November, but the booking was cancelled yesterday by city librarian Paul Whitney, after he received legal advice from lawyers and the Vancouver Police Department.

“The library 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,” Whitney said Monday.

“We were told in all likelihood this program would be in contravention of Section 241 of the Criminal Code and that states that it is an indictable offense to counsel or aid or abet any person to commit suicide, and this seems sort of, fairly clear to us,” Whitney told the media.

The two part workshop was to consist of a discussion on the politics of the assisted-suicide movement, and then a lesson on specific ways to commit suicide that would include information about which drugs to take, how to obtain them and how to take them.

“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,” said Exit International founder Dr. Phillip Nitschke.

Whitney confirmed that the library carries Exit International's suicide guidebook The Peaceful Pill Handbook, which is banned in Australia and New Zealand, but emphasized that allowing a workshop that promotes suicide and explains the procedure could put the library in the position of being legally liable if someone should kill themselves as a result of attending the workshop.

“We would have no problem hosting a program with Exit International which discussed the broad range of policy issues around the right to die and, in fact, would welcome that,” Whitney said in a CP report, and added that his decision to cancel the workshop “was based on what I felt was the undue risk associated for us as a public institution.”

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) said it will demand a reversal of the decision from the library board.

David Eby, executive director of the BCCLA, said the library is restricting freedom of speech by preventing the right-to-die group from discussing suicide methods with members of the public.

“We have reviewed the materials Exit International plan to present and it's our opinion they would not be in contravention of the Criminal Code or put them afoul of Canadian legislation, nor would they be assisting suicide under the definition of the law,” he told the Vancouver Sun.

Whitney indicated he does not expect the library board to reverse its decision.

“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 offence, which could result in the loss of life,” said Whitney.

John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition BC, told that the library made the right decision, and 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,” Hof concluded.


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