Encouraging Canadians to Think About Their Commitment to Intellectual Freedom
When Did Freedom to Read Week Begin?
Freedom to Read Week was born 36 years ago. Canadian author, Margaret Laurence’s book, The Diviners, was being challenged by schools in Ontario. The Freedom of Expression Committee was founded in response and argued “everyone has the following fundamental freedoms…thought, belief, opinion, and expression” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Who Decides What We Can Read?
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians, and freedom to read is part of that precious heritage,[i]” and yet, libraries are challenged regularly about the materials in circulation. To help, a Code of Ethics is used to determine whether a challenge is warranted; however, it can be difficult to achieve consensus.
Why is Freedom to Read Week Important?
Freedom to Read Week encourages us to think about and reaffirm our commitment to intellectual freedom. “Speakers or authors whose ideas may seem to deny the rights of others, or whose actions have indicated a disrespect for a group of people, have been challenged by both community members and library staff as unworthy of being given a platform or shelf space,” writes Deb Thomas, a recently retired librarian and co-chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the British Columbia Library Association. Libraries are facing increasingly difficult choices in defence of the “plurality of ideas and perspectives,” she writes.
What Has Been Challenged?
In 2019-2020, there were a total of 60 challenges reported in a Canadian Federation of Library Associations–Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliotheques survey to Canadian libraries. These numbers may be skewed due to the nature of library operations during the pandemic. These challenges range from age appropriateness to sexuality, to racism.
How Can You Access Challenged Books?
The Surrey Libraries and the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries each have created a list of Challenged Books by Canadian Authors. These books are challenged by both individuals and groups. The Freedom To Read website also boasts a list of 35 Challenged Publications with an interactive map to highlight the places in Canada where publications were challenged.
How Can You Report a Challenge?
Freedom to Read often finds it difficult to discover why challenges are launched or what becomes of them. “If you know of book or magazine or newspaper challenges or, better still, satisfactory resolutions anywhere in Canada, you can use [their] online case study form to report a challenge to the Freedom of Expression Committee.”
Enjoy your Freedom to Read. Head to your library and borrow a challenged book. This annual event runs from February 21-27, 2021.