Freedom to Read week raises awarness about censorship

Censorship of literature in Canada can be subtle.

Books aren’t being burned in the street or collected from every library in the nation when they are challenged.

Sometimes it’s a simple as a book being defaced on a library shelf so it’s unreadable. Every year books in Canada are being challenged in public schools and libraries. Challenges aren’t usually on a national level but in individual communities and school districts. The local nature of these disputes sometimes means that people aren’t aware of the number of challenges happening in the country each year, said Terri Doughty, head of the English department at Vancouver Island University.

“We don’t realize. We think we live in a pretty free society,” she said. “There are book challenges all the time in public schools and public libraries.”

Doughty said not all challenges are successful but sometimes they are and access is restricted to those books.

“It is the start of a pretty slippery slope, even if you feel righteous in censorship,” she said. “I would never want someone to tell me what my son could read. There has to be a fundamental respect acknowledging someone can access material and make up their own mind.”

The Canadian Library Association reported 101 challenges in annual voluntary library survey for 2011. There are hundreds of reasons for challenges, with more than 240 recorded.

Six in 10 challenges involved books, the others were DVDs or other library materials.

Three out of four challenged items remained on the shelves while the others were relocated, reclassified or in a few cases restricted.

“We try not to censor materials,” said Meg Rintoul, manager of the Wellington Library branch, adding the library has material from all viewpoints but doesn’t carry anything criminal and any erotica genre literature is clearly labelled and placed in a special section. “The library policy we have is we have something that would probably offend everyone because we have something to please all viewpoints.”

If there are requests for the material the library tries to meet the demand.

“The onus is on people to make a personal decision,” said Rintoul about whether people read a book or not.

For the first time, an entire genre was challenged, graphic novels, because of objections to explicit sexuality and violence. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books continue to trigger challenges in Canada, with one title being challenged in all six years of the survey. In 2011 The Sissy Duckling, by Harvey Fierstein, was challenged. In previous years My Princess Boy, by Cheryl Kilodavis and King of King by Linda de Haan were challenged.

Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, was challenged four years in a row from 2006-09.

“This book (Tango Makes Three) is top of the list more often than more explicit books,” said Doughty.

Tango Makes Three, by authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, is based on a real story of two male penguins in a zoo that raise a baby penguin.

Freedom to Read week runs until Saturday (March 2).

Doughty is giving a presentation Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book? Censorship and Children’s Literature today (Feb. 28) 7-8 p.m.

Doughty said in her lecture she will discuss what childhood is and how adults want to censor children’s books because of an ideology or fear of having them exposed to certain subjects.

“It’s rooted in the notion a child is an innocent being that needs to be protected,” she said. “People worry about a young child being traumatized by things.”

But that philosophy also raises the question about children’s rights to have access to material, she added.

Posters created by VIU English 435 students that discuss challenged books are on display at the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library and Wellington Library. For more information on Freedom to Read Week please go to www.freedomtoread.ca.


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