Freedom to Read Week Feb 21-27, 2021

Post prepared by Rebekah Glendinning

“A dangerous book will always be in danger from those it threatens with the demand that they question their assumptions. They’d rather hang on to the assumptions and ban the book.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin

Although intellectual freedom is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every year Canadians attempt to have books banned from library and bookstore shelves.  Challenges are often based on characterizations like “obscenity” or for using “profane language?” This week was Freedom to Read Week, an event that highlights books that have been challenged and forces us to confront the fact that intellectual freedom is still put into question.

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, and acts as a complimentary Canadian event to Banned Books Week in the USA. Freedom to Read Week was created to “encourage Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed to them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” 

Libraries have always been on the forefront of the fight against suppressing intellectual freedom, and in honor of this year’s Freedom to Read Week we are highlighting some Canadian books in our collection that have been frequently challenged or banned. 

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Nobel prize-winning author Alice Munro’s story of womanhood and growing up in rural Ontario seems like an unlikely culprit for controversy, but the novel was actually petitioned by Toronto parents in the 80s to be removed from the high school curriculum on the grounds of language and its overall philosophy.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Regarded as one of the most popular books in the Toronto Public Library system, Lawrence Hill’s novel which follows the life of a young slave girl has won many awards and received controversy over its name. The title is in reference to a historical document which the author argues is important context when considering the name. Despite this, the book has different titles in the USA, Australia, and Quebec.  

Such is my Beloved by Morley Callaghan

In 1972 Christian ministers tried to get this novel removed from a high school curriculum in an Ontario town, on the basis of the depiction of prostitution and the use of “strong language”.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katerine Paterson

This award-winning children’s writer novel about two lonely children who create their own magical kingdom in the forest has been challenged for “offensive language.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

No list of challenged books could be complete without Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood’s award-winning sci-fi hit is likely Canada’s most challenged book, primarily based on its inclusion of offensive language, violence, and sexual content. 

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