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Shining a light on book censorship

Libraries celebrating Freedom to Read Week

From Caligula's banning of The Odyssey to Chapters Indigo's removal of Mien Kempf, from the barring of Origin of the Species to the era of attacks on The Diviners, the writing, publishing and reading of books has never been without controversy. And, though it may seem counterintuitive, Canada is no safe haven.

Freedom to Read Week, which ends Feb. 28, is a reminder of all that, and the Squamish Library is raising awareness with a display of banned books and information pamphlets.

"Although our complaint record here is not high, across Canada it happens," said Hilary Bloom, children's librarian and deputy director of the Squamish library. "The books we have on display represent books that have been challenged in Canadian libraries in past decades."

There are just over 20 titles in the collection. Some of them, like Timothy Findley's The Wars, are classics. That particular title has come under repeated fire in schools because of a homosexual rape scene. Others, like Rick Hornung's One Nation Under the Gun: Inside the Mohawk Civil War, are works of journalism. That particular title was challenged after two native women claimed they were misquoted and defamed by the author. And there are titles that seem more innocuous, like those teen horror excursions written by R.L. Stine, which have been accused of undermining parental authority, or even the Harry Potter books, which have been called sacrilegious.

Though rare at the Squamish library, there have been challenges, as with a children's book called Gorilla written by Anthony Borne. According to Bloom, the story depicts a girl who is somewhat neglected by her busy father.

"They had a concern about the portrayal of family," she said. "It didn't go very far. As soon as the person was shown our policy on these things, he chose not to pursue it."

That policy is based around the Canadian Library Association Policy on Intellectual Freedom, which invokes the Bill of Rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure access "to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity, and to express their thoughts publicly."

Should someone wish to challenge a title despite the policy, a form must be filled out. The employee provides this paperwork to higher-ups while notifying the complainant that the book can't yet be removed. The library director is made available, and, if need be, a committee will convene to vote on the title.

"It's never gone there before," said Bloom.

A more prominent stage for complaints is the school system, though, according to Superintendent Rick Erickson, that era is appears to be fading, at least in Howe Sound District 48.

"There was an era, and I'll call it sometime in the '70s, when there was concern with regard to health education, sex education, and those types of topics," he said. "But I haven't heard of anything, not through the '80s, '90s and 2000s."

While it may seem like the pastime of the religious right, it should be noted that complaints are filed from all points of the philosophical spectrum. The Bible, for example, has been challenged for vilifying homosexuals.

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