Freedom to Read should not be taken lightly
In 1914 Balzac’s Droll Stories was banned by Canada Customs.
In January 1930 Canada Customs prohibited importation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
In 1949 Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was banned by personal order of the Minister of National Revenue, who admitted he had not read the book through. "I read the parts my staff had marked. I thought they were disgusting," he was quoted as saying. The book had been a best seller in Canada for 10 months before the banning.
Also in 1946, James Joyce’s Ulysses was allowed into Canada after 26 years on the prohibited importations list, and 16 years after it was cleared of obscenity charges in the United States.
In 1955 the University of Toronto closed the doors on its "Art Room," where for years students had to certify they were free of "mental problems" before reading works such as Ulysses and Such is My Beloved, by Morley Callaghan. The books were moved to open stacks or the rare-books room as appropriate.
Peyton Place was prohibited from entering Canada by Customs in 1956. Dell Books appealed the ruling to a tribunal of the Tariff Board, which agreed it wasn’t immoral. The Tribunal suggested Customs officers can’t do the job properly and that the task should be given to another body.
In 1962 the Supreme Court of Canada rules that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not obscene.
In 1974 the Canadian Library Association started a legal defence fund after the Church of Scientology sued libraries in Hamilton and Etobicoke that had refused to remove books critical of Scientology. Some booksellers responded to similar pressure by refusing to sell both pro and anti-Scientology titles.
In 1982, Justice Minister Jean Chretien introduced a child pornography bill that would have made it a crime to produce a "visual representation" of anyone who "is or appears to be" under 18 engaged in "any sexually explicit conduct." Under opposition ridicule, particularly from Ray Hnatyshyn who got Chretien to admit that a photo of a child eating a popsicle "in a suggestive way" would be an offense, and having been unable to produce a single pornographic scene involving children that couldn’t be prosecuted under existing obscenity law, Chretien withdrew the bill.
In May 1987 the federal government gave first reading to Bill C-54, a proposed anti-porn bill which would have defined pornography so as to include depictions of intercourse between consenting adults. The burden of proof would have been on the accused. The bill eventually dies. The minister responsible for the bill was Ray Hnatyshyn.
During Freedom to Read Week in February, 1989 Canada Customs makes this country the only western democracy to seize The Satanic Verses. After 48 hours the ban is rescinded.
In February 1991, during Freedom to Read Week, Canada Customs seizes or detains 580 books en route to Glad Day Book Store, some of which are freely available at mainstream bookstores.
In February 1992 a business agent for IWA-Canada asks that the children’s book Maxine’s Tree be removed from Sechelt School District libraries because of its anti-clearcut logging message.
Last February, a regional library board in Abbotsford banned all free publications from its branches that contained paid advertising, after pressure from local politicians who objected to advertisements in XTRA! West, a gay newspaper. Free publications, including Christian Info News, were later reinstated, but XTRA! West was put out of sight of children.
Feb. 26 to March 3 is Freedom to Read Week.
Enjoy the week.
(Chronology compiled by Sandra Bernstein on behalf of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada and the Book and Periodical Council.)