Saudi blogger Raif Badawi became known around the world when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes because of his writing. Many people, myself included, thought to themselves that such a thing could never happen in Canada. Because we live in a world where freedom of expression is not an inalienable right for everyone, it is important that we appreciate the freedom we often take for granted and renew our commitment to defending freedom of expression for all. For these reasons, Freedom to Read week is a valuable part of our cultural lives and Canadians and Canadian residents.
Each year the he Canadian Library Association’s Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom, in partnership with the Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee, conduct a survey identifying library materials that have been challenged. These materials are those that concerned members of the public have asked to be removed from library collections or reclassified for a variety of reasons.
In drawing attention to some of the more surprising titles on this list, it is not my intention that we scoff at the presumed ignorance of those who challenge library materials, but rather that we open up conversations about why access to materials representing a full range of view points is essential for the health and well being of our society.
Here are some titles that have recently been challenged in Canadian schools and libraries:
Published in 1977, Findley’s The Wars was most recently challenged in 2011. The parent of a twelfth grader in Ontario asked that the book be removed from her child’s curriculum because of sexual and violent content including prostitution and gang rape. The book, which won the Governor General’s Award, remains on the curriculum.
This book about homosexual penguins raising a chick together was removed from a Calgary Catholic School Library after being challenged in 2006. Though for many children this book serves as a compassionate and heartwarming introduction to acceptance, it is clear not everyone feels the same way. In library catalogues the book has been tagged as “brainwashing children,” and “godless penguins.”
And just this week, Canadian graphic novelists Mariko and Jillian Tamaki had their widely acclaimed work This One Summer pulled from the shelves of three American secondary schools in response to a parent’s complaint that the book was inappropriate for a third grader. (I can’t quite figure that one out either.)
If you’d like to learn more about Freedom to Read week, please visit http://www.freedomtoread.ca/.