Freedom to Read Week promotes discussions on censorship

Discussions around censorship are especially timely at the moment, in the face of near-daily news reports about the removal of books from libraries and schools throughout North America and beyond. At Trinity College School, our librarians have been encouraging students and staff to consider these issues as part of national Freedom to Read Week, February 20th to 26th.

Initiated by the Book and Periodical Council (BPC) of Canada, Freedom to Read Week was created to encourage “Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Within its “Challenged Works List,” the BPC cites dozens of titles that have been challenged or banned at various points in history in Canada. Examples include Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (for “profanity and vulgarity”), the children’s book Tango Makes Three (challenged on religious grounds due to the theme of same-sex parenting) and the graphic novel Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story (for “graphic representation of sensitive content”). The list includes one of the recent targets of censorship campaigns, the Holocaust graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman.

Prior to the start of the week, the Senior School library invited students and staff to have their photo taken with a challenged book, from Harry Potter to 1984. Displays showed banned titles – many of these, the students and staff could not believe had been challenged. The display included literary classics, young adult favourites and valued texts in the curriculum. 

But the week is also a chance to promote meaningful discussions, particularly relevant in light of current events related to the concept of freedom. How do we determine if a book is appropriate for a particular audience? How do we approach works that may be racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist? In what ways can we show our commitment to freedom of “thought, belief, opinion, and expression” as enshrined in the Charter?

Learn more about Freedom to Read Week and explore challenged and banned works at www.freedomtoread.ca.