February 25

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Freedom to Read Week started Sunday

By Tracey Arial

February 25, 2021

censorship, Freedom to Read Week

This week, we commemorate the right of people to read.

Canadian creators, librarians and schools set up Freedom to Read Week events every year to celebrate and encourage reading and to talk about access to information, censorship and freedom of expression.

Various authors in Canada have written posts about all three issues.

Curator Forrest Pass from Library and Archives Canada wrote a brilliant post about the history of censorship in Canada, and how Canadian customs agents quietly prevented discussion about controversial books over time.

I think this is a very important issue, but it’s important to differentiate controversy from hate literature. Personally, I’m quite happy that all the works of Gabriel Matzneff are banned in Canada. The 83 year French writer won multiple awards (the Mottard in 1987 and the Amic from the Académie française in 2009, the Prix Renaudot essay in 2013 and the Prix Cazes in 2015) for writing about pedophilia, particularly in the Philippines. He finally got charged with sex abuse last year after victim Vanessa Springora wrote about his acts against her in Le Consentement (Consent).

Initiated by Creator Association Representatives

Freedom to Read Week operates as a project by a committee set up by the Books and Periodical Council. The Council represents creator associations across Canada, including one I’m in, the Professional Writers Association of Canada.

Freedom of Expression matters a great deal to all of us.

Defining Freedom of Expression can be difficult. The Books and Periodical Council uses a joint statement written in 1997 and reaffirmed in 2017 to do so. Here it is:

What is Freedom of Expression?

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians, and freedom to read is part of that precious heritage. Our Committee, representing member organizations and associations of the Book and Periodical Council, reaffirms its support of this vital principle and opposes all efforts to suppress writing and silence writers. Words and images in their myriad configurations are the substance of free expression.

The freedom to choose what we read does not, however, include the freedom to choose for others. We accept that courts alone have the authority to restrict reading material, a prerogative that cannot be delegated or appropriated. Prior restraint demeans individual responsibility; it is anathema to freedom and democracy.

As writers, editors, publishers, book manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and librarians, we abhor arbitrary interpretations of the law and other attempts to limit freedom of expression. We recognize court judgments; otherwise, we oppose the detention, seizure, destruction, or banning of books and periodicals – indeed, any effort to deny, repress, or sanitize. Censorship does not protect society; it smothers creativity and precludes open debate of controversial issues.

Challenged Works

The list of challenged works that someone in Canada deemed offensive includes many works. A diversity of cultural expression works about gender identity, multiculturalism and panoply of other politically-sensitive issues appear.

The nonfiction books among them include:

  • 100 Questions about Islam,
  • Bad Medicine: A Judge’s Struggle for Justice in a First Nations Community,
  • Banksters and Prairie Boys,
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,
  • La première fois,
  • Lethal Marriage,
  • Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique,
  • The Importance of Muhammad,
  • The Star Weekly At War,
  • The Valour and the Horror,
  • The Wars,
  • Three Wishes,
  • Under the Gun: Inside the Mohawk Civil War,
  • Waging War from Canada,
  • Within His Keeping: God’s Embrace of Your Life, and
  • Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies.

Tracey Arial

About the author

Tracey Arial helps Canadians create meaningful lives with true stories about ancestors, businesses, communities and ecology.

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