Freedom to Read Week celebrates Canadians’ right to free expression

Friday, February 20, 2015
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Friday, February 20, 2015
By Taryn Blanchard This Sunday, February 22, marks the launch of Canada’s annual celebration of Freedom to Read Week, an important opportunity to learn about our right to free expression. In addition to events held by schools, libraries, and community groups, the week brings together free expression advocates across the country with the public in panel discussions, talks, readings, and other activities. There is no doubt that Canadians enjoy essential rights and freedoms that are often denied to those in other parts of the world. However, this does not mean that even here in Canada those rights and freedoms cannot be at risk of eroding if they are not actively protected and reaffirmed. It may be hard to believe, but an enduring form of censorship that Canadians continue to face is the banning of books and magazines from libraries, schools, and bookstores. And it is not always overtly controversial materials that become the subject of censorship challenges. Books by Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, Pulitzer Prize winner Harper Lee, and even the Harry Potter series have all been subject to censorship challenges by people seeking to restrict public access to them. To learn more about the many books that have been subject to censorship challenges in Canada, or to submit your own report about a person or group trying to ban a written work, take a look at the Book and Periodical Council’s extensive database. The annual week of celebrations and activities is not just about protecting Canadians’ right to read books in school or at home. It is also about raising awareness about threats to free expression on the Internet, in the sciences, and other domains that are crucial to everyone’s engagement in democratic government. In today’s world censorship comes in many different types, including restrictions on access to government and court documents, protests and other forms of public participation, and news reporting and commentary. It can also take the form of self-censorship in a climate where individuals are silenced by a climate of fear. For example, potential whistleblowers may choose to remain silent because whistleblowers in Canada have such dismal protections, or individuals or organizations may refrain from speaking out against large corporations for fear of facing frivolous and expensive SLAPP lawsuits. It is for these many reasons that CJFE, PEN Canada, BCCLA, and CCLA partnered to launch a crowdsourced mapping tool that tracks incidents of censorship across Canada. To view the database or to submit your own report, visit the censorship tracker website. Most incidents of censorship do not get publicized; they badger and frustrate and insinuate themselves into the lives of concerned citizens, journalists, and advocacy organizations, whittling away at everyone’s right to free expression. Freedom to Read Week, together with other initiatives that track challenges to print materials and other incidents of censorship, give all Canadians much needed ways of protecting our right to free expression. We cannot afford not to take advantage of these opportunities.

Events for Freedom to Read Week are being held across the country

Free talks in Toronto:
  • The Death of Dissent. February 24: CJFE’s Executive Director, Tom Henheffer, will present a talk on how the federal government’s culture of secrecy is putting a chill on investigative journalism, muzzling federal scientists, and increasing charity audits.
  • Read. Write. Speak. February 25: Member of CJFE’s Board of Directors, and Chair of CJFE’s Digital Issues Committee, Paula Todd will be appearing in conversation with media lawyer Brian MacLeod Rogers to discuss self-censorship, libel law, and access to information.
Not in Toronto? Find Freedom to Read Week events near you. Freedom to Read Week is a project first launched over 30 years ago by Canada’s Book and Periodical Council. Today it coincides with the publication each year of a Freedom to Read Review in Canada and around the world, prepared by the Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee. It features provocative news articles, interviews with champions of free expression, and a Get Involved section with activities, clip art, and posters. Order yours today to support Freedom to Read Week and all Canadians’ right to free expression. For more information on Freedom to Read Week and how to get involved, visit
Taryn Blanchard is CJFE’s Communications Assistant and currently working on her PhD in Anthropology at the University of Toronto.

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