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Freedom to Read Week: Mark Bourrie on our Right to Know

Freedom to Read Week Banner 2015

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to celebrate and reaffirm our commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is also an opportunity to discuss and debate threats to free expression on all levels (from the library book objected to in a small town to a tragedy played out on the world stage, such as the shootings at Charlie Hebdo). 

In conjunction with Freedom to Read Week 2015, we discuss censorship and information-access issues with Mark Bourrie, author of Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. Mark Bourrie appears this Friday, February 27, at the Toronto Reference Library as part of The Decline and Fall of Investigative Journalism event, with all proceeds going to PEN Canada. 

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49thShelf: In Canada, Freedom to Read Week has always been rung in with a note of triumph. We don’t ban books here, and it’s funny to learn about the reader in Edmonton who challenged Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs because of porcine bad behaviour. But your book suggests that Canadians shouldn’t be so smug. How is our freedom to read (to learn, to know) being infringed upon by government policy?

Mark Bourrie: Books and articles do get printed, but the …

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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.

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