Freedom to Read Week: A List of Challenged Books in Canada

Freedom to Read Week Poster 2012

"Burning books is designed to intimidate people. It underestimates the intelligence of readers, stifles dialogue and insults those who cherish the freedom to read and write,” wrote Lawrence Hill in a 2011 Toronto Star op-ed piece in response to threats made against his award-winning novel The Book of Negroes. On February 22, Hill received the Writers' Union of Canada 2012 Freedom to Read Award. The prize was awarded, according to Writers' Union Chair Greg Hollingshead, "on the basis of [Hill's] reasoned and eloquent response to the threat to burn his novel," and was granted in conjunction with Freedom to Read Week, an initiative by the Book and Periodical Council that urges Canadians to affirm their commitment to intellectual freedom. Events are being held across Canada to mark the week, in particular the first Salt Spring Words Without Borders Festival.

To underline the relevance and importance of Freedom to Read Week and censorship issues, we have created a list of Canadian books that have been challenged in Canadian schools and libraries recently and in past decades. This list has been adapted from the Freedom to Read Week "List of Challenged Books and Magazines", which you can read in its entirety here.

The Wars by Timothy Findley:

Challenged in 2011 in Ontario for its use in Grade 12 English classes. Objections to sex and violence in the novel. After community response and textbook review, novel was kept in the secondary school curriculum.

Book Cover Bad Medicine

Bad Medicine by John Reilly:

In 2010 in Alberta, the Stoney Nakoda First Nation asked the Judicial Council of Alberta to ban Bad Medicine, objecting to the negative portrayal of their government of the reserve. In 2011, the Judicial Council of Alberta found merit in the Stoney Nakodas’ complaint and said that Reilly should resign from the bench if he wanted to make political statements. No book ban occurred.

A Jest of God by Margaret Lawrence:

Challenged in 1987 with a number of other texts by a group of parents in Victoria County ON. The school board rejected the challenges. The parent group ran candidates for the school board during the 1989 municipal elections; all were defeated.

Book cover Hey Dad

Hey Dad! by Brian Doyle:

In 1984, 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.”

Book Cover Glory Days

Glory Days and Other Stories by Gillian Chan:

During the 2000 sexual assault trial of a former teacher in Langley BC, court heard evidence that the teacher had assigned a story, “Invisible Girl,” from this critically acclaimed collection to a Grade 4 and 5 class. The story deals with date rape. The school principal suggested to the board superintendent that the book be withdrawn from Langley schools. Book was withdrawn from elementary schools in the district, but is still available in secondary school libraries.

Book Cover Three Wishes

Three Wishes by Deborah Ellis:

In Ontario, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) in 2006 urged public school boards to deny access to this children’s non-fiction book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to students in the elementary grades, stating that Ellis had provided a flawed historical introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although the Ontario Library Association (OLA) had recommended Three Wishes to schools as part of its acclaimed Silver Birch reading program, and although schoolchildren were not required to read the book, at least five school boards in Ontario set restrictions on the text.

Book Cover The Young in one Another's Arms

The Young in One Another's Arms by Jane Rule:

Although this Canadian novel had been published in 1977 and thousands of copies were available in Canada, a shipment addressed to Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto was detained by customs officers at the U.S. border in 1990. The shipment was eventually released.

Book Cover Ashas Mums

Asha's Mums by Rosamund Elwin & Michele Paulse:

In 1997, this picture book, aimed at children in kindergarten and Grade 1, was banned from use in public schools in Surrey BC along with two others. The books had been submitted to the school board for approval earlier in the school year by a primary-level teacher. Before banning these three books, the board also announced that it would not approve any materials drawn from resource lists submitted by the Gay and Lesbian Educators (GALE) of British Columbia. As a result, parents, teachers, and students launched a lawsuit against the school board, seeking to have the decisions reversed. The books were said by the board to promote a homosexual lifestyle— though the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” are not used in the three books. In December 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the school board was wrong to ban books depicting homosexual parents in a positive light from elementary classrooms. The B.C. School Act, the court said, requires public schools to be secular, pluralistic and respectful of diversity.

Book Cover Maxines Tree

Maxine's Tree by Diane Leger:

In 1992, an official of the International Woodworkers of America in Sechelt (BC) asked that the book be withdrawn from elementary school libraries in his community. The young protagonist in this picture book is opposed to clear-cut logging in a first growth forest. The union leader charged that the book indoctrinated children into an anti-logging or extremist viewpoint. The school board rejected his request.

Book Cover Hold Fast

Hold Fast by Kevin Major:

Hold Fast was one of three books challenged by one person in a high school library in Estevan SK in 1988/89. The board followed regular procedures for dealing with challenged materials, and the book remains in the library. The book, credited with being the first young-adult novel to be written in Canada, has been at the heart of many controversies in schools and communities across Canada. A public reading of Hold Fast was held at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre in Toronto to mark Freedom to Read Week 1995.

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood:

In Toronto, a parent formally complained in 2008 about the use of this dystopian novel in a Grade 12 English class at Lawrence Park Collegiate. The parent said that the novel’s “profane language,” anti-Christian overtones, “violence” and “sexual degradation” probably violated the district school policies that require students to show respect and tolerance to one another. In 2009, a review panel of the Toronto District School Board recommended that schools keep the novel in the curriculum in Grades 11 and 12.

Book Cover Who is Frances Rain

Who is Frances Rain? by Margaret Buffie:

Was winner of the 1988 Young Adult Fiction Award from the Canadian Library Association and an American Library Association Notable Book. In 1990, the author’s visit to a public school in Orleans ON was cancelled during Canadian Children’s Book Week because the words “hell” and “bastard” made the book unsuitable for 10-to-13-year olds.

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro:

In 1982, Toronto parents petitioned, without success, to remove the book from the high school curriculum. This book has been the target of challenges in school districts across the country. Parents objected to the “language and philosophy of the book.”

Book Cover Ziggy Piggy

Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs by Frank Asch:

In the Edmonton Public Library in 2006, a parent objected to an episode at the end of the book in which the Wolf huffs and puffs and blows the four pigs on a raft far out to sea and the pigs then go for a swim. The parent wrote: “I don’t know what the author was hoping children would learn from the actions of the pig [i.e., Ziggy]. Yes, he was creative and perhaps a free spirit; however, he may have delivered his friends into greater danger. What is the lesson learned?” In the end, the library retained the book in its picture book collection.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler:

This book has been attacked in various jurisdictions. In 1982, the Etobicoke Board of Education was asked to ban it from the high school curriculum. The motion was defeated. In 1990, a complaint from a student and her father led the Essex County Board of Education to establish a written policy to deal with such objections. The book was not withdrawn.

Book Cover The Shepherds Granddaughter

The Shepherd's Granddaughter by Anne Carter:

In Ontario in 2010, B’nai Brith Canada called for the removal of this young-adult novel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a recommended reading program for students in Grades 7 and 8 in public schools. A parent with a child in a Toronto public school also complained about the novel in a letter to Ontario’s minister of education. The complainants described the novel as anti-Israeli propaganda. The complaints provoked a public controversy. Sheila Ward, a trustee on the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), said that she would “move heaven and earth to have The Shepherd’s Granddaughter taken off the school library shelves.” Carter and the novel’s publisher—Patsy Aldana of Groundwood Books—denied the charge of anti-Israeli bias. Erna Paris, chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and Aldana urged the TDSB to defend students’ freedom to read. Others defended the novel’s educational and literary value. In June 2010, a review committee of the TDSB said that teachers should use the novel to encourage students to read and think critically. In August 2010, Chris Spence, the TDSB’s director of education, decided to keep the novel in the schools’ recommended reading program.

February 26, 2012
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