The word “censorship” covers a broad range of events that fall into several categories:

State Censorship

Actions of the state or its agents. The government excludes, restricts or removes access to the material, or raises the age at which access is permitted. In Canada, instances of censorship have included prohibited importations by Canada Customs, obscenity charges laid against visual and performing artists, and the banning of films by provincial censor boards. Publication bans also fall into this category.


Actions by individuals or groups. The American Library Association has identified four main types:

Public Attack — A publicly disseminated statement challenging the material’s merit, presented to the media and/or others to build support for further action. (Commonly, for example, members of fundamentalist religious groups organize well-orchestrated campaigns of complaint against library books and textbooks, such as the Impressions series or the novels of Margaret Laurence.)

Written Complaint — A formal, written complaint filed with the institution (library, school board etc.), challenging the presence and/or appropriateness of specific material.

Oral Complaint — An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material. (Many libraries have policies that require complaints be submitted in writing.)

Expression of Concern — An inquiry with judgmental overtones.

To these may be added any theft that is motivated by a desire to make the material inaccessible to other readers.

The flip side of challenges can occur when groups or individuals apply pressure for the inclusion of materials that do not meet the established selection criteria, such as balance.


Actions by individuals and institutions that, anticipating challenges or state censorship, choose not to create or make available controversial works. School boards often lean so far toward “political correctness” that children are denied an appropriate range of literature and information. Similarly, writers may avoid dealing with certain otherwise valid topics to avoid falling into the net of libel, obscenity or so-called child pornography laws.

How to Spot a Would-Be Censor

The type of person who challenges books

  • Invariably denies being in favour of censorship;
  • Has rarely read the work in whole or often even in part;
  • Quotes excerpts out of context;
  • Demonizes the author and his/her other works.