Freedom to Read Week in Canada begins today

It’s awesome to be able to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, which begins today.

See this in video here

Do we still need this kind of celebration? Isn’t censorship dead in Canada?

Not all. Did you know that politician Victor Doerksen and 810 others tried to get John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” banned from all Alberta schools in 1994?

Of Mice and Men sits among 30 works that have been challenged in Canada over the last 35 year of this event. You can read the entire list on the Books and Periodical Council Freedom to Read Week website.

Reading about such things surprises me, but it shouldn’t. People are always trying to impose their taste on others.

Canadian creators, librarians and schools set up Freedom to Read Week events to celebrate and encourage the right to freedom of expression. It has taken place in Canada for the last 35 years.

This year, it begins on February 24 and ends March 2.

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.

At the same time, we do not condone hate literature, something that is illegal in Canada.

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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.

Demeaning and Profanity

Of Mice and Men fits right in.

The 811 people who signed a petition presented to the Albertan legislature in 1994 claimed that Steinbeck’s classic book “demeans or profanes the name of God and Jesus Christ.”

I can’t argue about the profanity. Consider the following quote from paragraph 62 on Saturday Night.

“I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it.”

Not sure how a quote from a fictional character demeans God though. Nor do I agree that that would be a reason to ban a book anyway.

Steinbeck’s work expresses an intense period in American history. It’s also extraordinarily well-written.

Think I’m going to make a point of reading it to celebrate Freedom to Read.

Or maybe I’ll just read Travels With Charlie again. That’s my favourite non-fiction work of all time. Steinbeck wrote it too.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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