Is Toronto Symphony Orchestra preventing freedom of speech?

Is Toronto Symphony Orchestra preventing freedom of speech?

Is Toronto Symphony Orchestra preventing freedom of speech? The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s decision to cancel performances by pianist Valentina Lisitsa has been publicly condemned by civil rights advocates who say her views are entirely unrelated to her employer.

Ukrainian-born Lisitsa regularly uses Twitter as a platform to voice her pro-Russian views on the civil-war currently raging in her home country but the TSO say many of her tweets cross the line into “intolerance.”

The orchestra’s president and CEO, Jeff Melanson said Lisitsa has been replaced due to "ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language.”

Canadian employers are well within their legal rights to discipline and even dismiss employees whose social media posts bring the business into bad repute.

“When there are public statements made or a public action is taken that clearly reflects poorly on the company or employer then employers do have the ability to exercise discipline,” employment lawyer Brian Wasyliv told HRM.

However, the move, which has sparked widespread controversy, has not gone down well with civil rights activists.

Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says Lisitsa’s views have no impact on her ability to do her job.

“It's hard to see the connection between what she said and what the duties of her job are and how it would affect it," she said.

"If the idea is just that the orchestra wants to avoid controversy, I don't find that a particularly compelling reason. The fact that maybe there would be some people protesting is, again, not a reason to let her go," she added.

Zwibel also voiced concerns over what this means for the relationship between employers and artists.

"I think there is a problem with the message that this sends to artists that they may have trouble getting jobs or keeping jobs if they express views that are unpopular or controversial," she said.

CEO Melanson has since defended his controversial decision and said; “As one of Canada's most important cultural institutions, our priority must remain on being a stage for the world's great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive.”

Do you think TSO has the right to cancel Lisitsa’s performances because of her political insensitivity? Share your thoughts below.  

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6 Comments
  • Jean Fraser 2015-04-09 2:15:49 PM
    Yes they had the right to cancel her performances.
    Freedom of speech is important, but one is not allowed to harm another person. Calling people an excrement crosses the line, is hurtful and offensive. No I am not Ukranian, but I was offended. I have no interest in seeing her performance, and in fact, would not go based on that fact.

    An employer is perfectly without their rights, to cancel a performance by a performer who has been viewed as offensive. Whether we like it or not, our behaviour and words can impact our employer.
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  • Joanne 2015-04-09 4:08:10 PM
    I have not seen nor heard of her comments so cannot comment on them. Yes, we are entitled to free speech but not to offensive speech that could offend the clients (patrons) of the Toronto Symphony (her employer) or the other orchestra members. Her views are her own but not if they affect or are detrimental to her coworkers or her employer. What if someone came to a concert that did not agree with her views and caused a disturbance that would affect how everyone else did their job and the Toronto Symphony could end up with some very negative publicity. If she voices her views without being identified as a member of the Toronto Symphony then she should be free to voice her views, BUT once identified as a Toronto Symphony member she should curtail the offensive language. This to me would apply to any employee, you have to be mindful of how you affect your employer's business.
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  • Mery 2015-04-09 6:49:32 PM
    I wonder if this situation would have best been handled by going ahead with her concerts, then make a decision whether to hire her again or not. The people who were offended could boycott the performances, then be assured they wouldn't happen again.
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