Freedom to Read Week

By Niall McArdle

Me caught reading 'The Satanic Verses' at Bonnechere Union Public Library, Eganville
Me caught reading ‘The Satanic Verses’ at Bonnechere Union Public Library, Eganville

Freedom to Read Week in Canada begins today. Similar to Banned Books Week in the United States, the annual event is a chance for readers to reflect upon the ever-present threat of censorship.

Here is a sample of some of the books that have been challenged in Canada.


The Handmaid’s Tale

A Toronto parent complained about the use of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel in a Grade 12 English class at Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute, because of its “profane language,” anti-Christian overtones, “violence” and “sexual degradation.


The Wars

Timothy Findley’s World War One novel was challenged in an Ontario high school when a parent objected to depictions of sex and violence in the novel. She especially objected to a character’s visit to a whorehouse and depictions of a homosexual gang rape. She said the novel was “inappropriate to be presented to a class of young people,” worried about the book’s effect on the minds of students.


A Jest of God

Magaret Lawrence’s Governor General’s Award-winning novel is about the unhappy life a schoolteacher in a small Manitoba town. In 1978, a school trustee in Etobicoke, Ont., tried but failed to remove this novel from high school English classes. The trustee objected to the portrayal of teachers “who had sexual intercourse time and time again, out of wedlock.” He said the novel would diminish the authority of teachers in students’ eyes.


And Tango Makes Three

Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell wrote and illustrated a children’s book about two male penguins that raise a baby. In 2006 a parent complained about this picture book for small children in the Calgary Catholic School District. On religious grounds, the parent objected to the theme of homosexual parenting.
The library asked the central office of the Religious Education Department to review the book. Later, the library removed the book from its collection.


Canadian Poetry: The Modern Era

In 1987, Parents for a Quality Curriculum objected to the use of this anthology—and five other works of contemporary Canadian fiction—in high schools in Victoria County, Ont. The parents objected to “anti-establishment attitudes” in the poems. But the school board voted to keep Canadian Poetry on its reading list.


Catch That Cat!

In British Columbia in 2006 a parent complained about this children’s book at the Prince George Public Library, describing it as occult and scary.


Go Ask Alice

Written in diary form, the novel describes a teenage girl’s experiences with narcotics and sex.In 1978, school boards in Richmond and Langley, B.C., removed this book from their high schools. In Richmond, students sent a petition to the school board to protest the ban, and the Richmond Teacher-Librarians’ Association supported them. In Langley, a committee of school trustees, librarians and parents recommended keeping copies in counsellors’ offices. But these efforts failed; both bans stayed in effect.


Hey, Dad!

Brian Doyle’s publisher received a letter from the principal of a rural Ontario school stating that copies of the book were being returned because they promoted negative views and did not contain the values of “positive citizenship.”


Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

In 1993 A parent group in Leeds-Grenville County (ON) wanted this fantasy novel about dragons and magic removed from the Linklater-Macdonald Public School Library. One complainant said the book hints at occultism and “New Age religion.”


Mog and the Granny

Judith Kerr’s children’s story was challenged by a patron at the Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia as racist because the text refers to “Red Indians”. The library’s collection development committee reviewed the book. The committee decided that “the narrative and illustrations are indeed dated and, if not deliberately racist, certainly demeaning according to current standards.” Although 450 people had borrowed the library’s five copies of the book between 1996 and 2008, the library put Mog and the Granny into the recycling bin.


No Place for Me

This is a YA novel about a young girl dealing with her parents’ divorce. A parent of children in Surrey (BC) Traditional School fought to have this book removed. The book was said to promote the Wicca religion.


New American and Canadian Poetry

In 1984 the school board in Sechelt (BC), responding to a parental complaint, removed this book from student use in Chatelech Secondary School.The anthology was said to present an anti-establishment view and to present sex and four-letter words in a positive light. The school board decided, following a review, that the book should remain in the library. The sole copy has since been stolen and not replaced.


Scrambled Brains

A controversial cookbook with whimsical illustrations, the book was removed from gift shops in B.C. Ferries vessels after a chief steward raised concern. There were no public complaints, but a spokesman for B.C. Ferries said that a contract with a bookseller required that titles be “of a non-controversial nature.”
The book includes recipes such as “Exploding Jesus Cake,” a section called “Cooking with Weed,” and one illustration in which a semi-naked man displays an intimate interpretation of roulade, a rolled meat dish usually stuffed with a pickle.


Takes One To Know One: An Alison Kaine Mystery

A patron of Toronto Public Library objected to this lesbian-themed mystery novel because of “filthy language,” “casual use of the ‘f’ word” and a graphic depiction of sex.


To Kill A Mockingbird

In 1991, an Afro-Canadian organization called PRUDE (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education) in Saint John, N.B., sought to remove Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from school reading lists. PRUDE disliked the portrayal of racial minorities in both novels.


The Satanic Verses

Revenue Canada, acting on a complaint from a Muslim group, halted imports of Salman Rushdie’s novel to review whether the book violates laws banning the dissemination of hate literature. Coles Book Stores also refused to stock it. The ban by Revenue Canada was later lifted.

3 thoughts on “Freedom to Read Week

  1. Hard to believe it is the 21st Century when I read this Niall. Whatever happened to freedom of choice? I am sure that anyone potentially offended by any of those issues could have chosen not to read them. Likewise, those fans of such work could have chosen to enjoy them. I was unaware that this sort of thing still went on, with minority groups deciding on taste, education, and choice. It is enough that we still have film censors deciding what we watch, though relaxations in recent years have been welcome.
    What’s next, book burnings in provincial towns? We know what happens after that.
    Cheers, Pete.


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