This year, we mark the 35th anniversary of Freedom to Read Week and the 35th issue of Freedom to Read. In 1984, the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Development Council launched both to raise Canadians’ awareness of censorship threats in Canada and to encourage Canadians to celebrate their freedom to read.
Throughout our committee’s 41-year existence, we have resisted attempts to ban books and magazines from public schools and libraries. We have protested the legal ban on imported gay and lesbian literature and attempts to censor the Internet. We have criticized government bills and judicial decisions that restrict Canadians’ freedom to publish and read.
Today, near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we still do these things, but we also face new challenges. In this issue of Freedom to Read, we explore them.
The Indigenous peoples in Canada—the First Nations, Métis and Inuit—are striving to revive their ancestral languages. A few languages (e.g., Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway) have thousands of speakers, but others (e.g., Kwakiutl, Haida and Tlingit) have only a few hundred speakers. Many languages could soon disappear.
We asked two Cree writers — Jessica Johns and Selina Boan — to talk about the freedom to read and the challenges of learning and writing in Cree. They share their views in “Languages Contain Worlds Inside Them” (page 16). We also asked Sandy Crawley to tell us about the Write to Read Project BC, which seeks to improve library access in rural Indigenous communities in British Columbia. “Growing Literacy” appears on page 9.
In “Bridging the Digital Divide” (page 15), Katy Anderson writes about the Canadians who lack Internet access in their homes and/or lack mobile phones. Many Canadians are missing the educational and economic benefits that come with affordable Internet access. The federal government could help these people, Anderson says, by putting a national broadband strategy into effect.
Of course, long-established challenges to our freedom to read persist. In “Jumping on the Social Media Bandwagon” (page 6), Donna Bowman and Katherine McColgan report the latest attempts to censor books, magazines and speakers in Canadian public libraries. Joan Baxter recounts how a pulp and paper company scotched her book signing in New Glasgow. Read “When the Mill Attacked The Mill and Free Expression in Nova Scotia” (page 8) to learn the details.
Wealthy people and corporations sometimes file expensive, time-consuming and meritless lawsuits (called SLAPPs) to punish their less-wealthy critics. In recent years, the governments of Quebec and Ontario have enacted laws to curtail SLAPPs, and in late 2018 the government of British Columbia was poised to enact a similar law. In “Protecting the Right to Speak Out” (page 14), Grant Buckler explores how effective anti-SLAPP laws are.
In Quebec, Michel Cormier reports the story of Marie-Maude Denis, a journalist who has been ordered by a judge to reveal her sources in the trial of a former cabinet minister. Could the new federal Journalistic Sources Protection Act help her? Read “Shielding Journalistic Sources” (page 19) to find out. In “Meanwhile in Quebec …” (page 18), Charles Montpetit also examines five incidents that affected free expression and asks readers whether censorship occurred.
Franklin Carter is the BPC’s champion of free expression in 2019. Mark Leiren-Young interviews the editor, researcher and long-time supporter of the Freedom of Expression Committee on page 10. We also asked Carter to write two articles for this issue of Freedom to Read. “Vital Statistics” appears on page 5, and “Freedom of Expression in Canada (2009–18)” begins on page 12.
We conclude this year’s issue with “Get Involved” (pages 20–24). We not only list challenged books and magazines and suggest activities for Freedom to Read Week, but also invite you to play Defenders!, Jaclyn Law’s board game (page 24), and connect with us online. Above all, we hope you enjoy the magazine and Freedom to Read Week!