Freedom to Read Week


by Kim Hesas


Canada is a country committed to intellectual freedom: it’s even outlined in section 2b of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the same time, even as a free country, by international standards, there are still books that are banned at the Canadian border and removed from schools, bookstores and public libraries all the time. Most often, this happens because an individual or an organization challenges a book because of its political or religious nature, sexual or obscene content, or gratuitous violence. These challenges ultimately seek to limit public access to the text.

A surprising amount of titles – some that you might not even expect – have been challenged or banned in Canada at some point. I can’t imagine completing the high school curriculum without having read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (challenged by a Toronto parent in 2008) or never having had the pleasure of reading Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Even if a book is never banned, it is always possible that the content has been censored in publication to avoid particular issues or moral ambiguities that the text may hold.

The current window display at TYPE Books on Queen Street West in Toronto boasts a stunning visual display of pages of content pouring out of books and titles deemed “Censored Must-reads That Might Have Been Can’t Reads,” some of which are among my favourite books of all time: Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Charles’ Burns’ controversial graphic novel, Black Hole that tackles teenage social anxiety, sexuality, and is often interpreted as a representation of the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event held by the Book and Periodical Council (BPC), in association with the OLA, Canada Council for the Arts, Quill & Quire and other major publishers and companies. The week raises awareness about the censorship that that still exists today through a nation-wide series of events, and encourages people to exercise their intellectual freedom by picking up a “banned” or “challenged” book.  So live on the wild side this week – or any time, for that matter – and take a peek into something that, somewhere along the line, someone didn’t want you to read.

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