Freedom to Read Week
February 26 – March 4, 2017
Freedom to Read Week, organized by the Book and Periodical Council, is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Below, you’ll find 30 book titles that were banned or caused controversy in Canada.
1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Challenges: 1991—With Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, this classic novel was targeted by a parent group for removal from recommended reading lists in the Saint John (NB) School District 20. Objection—Racism in characterization and language.
2. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler
Challenges: In 1990, parents demanded the removal of this novel from high school reading lists in Essex County, Ont. They objected to “vulgarity, sexual expressions and sexual innuendoes” in the text.
Challenges: 2010 — In Alberta, the Stoney Nakoda First Nation asked the Judicial Council of Alberta to ban Bad Medicine. David Bearspaw, a chief of the Stoney Nakodas, also filed a libel suit against the book’s author, a semi-retired judge who had served in Alberta’s courts for more than 30 years.
4. Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan
Challenges: At a convention in 1960, members of the Manitoba School Trustees Association voted unanimously to ask Manitoba’s department of education to remove this novel from the high school curriculum. “What the trustees objected to is the vulgarity and the language used in it,” said Frank Kennedy, a trustee from Norwood. Most trustees had not read the novel.
5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Challenges: 1990—One of several books challenged by a parent group in Essex County (ON). Update—None of the books were withdrawn from the high school reading list as a result of the protest.
6. Dance Me Outside by W.P. Kinsella
Challenges: 1994—Books by the well-known Canadian author were removed from the library in Jean Vanier Roman Catholic school in Barrie (ON) after complaints from an Onkwehonwe anti-racism alliance. Update—The public library and public schools in the district decided not to remove Kinsella’s books.
7. Different Seasons by Stephen King
Challenges: 1995—The Lanark County (ON) School Board refused to include this collection of four novellas chosen by teachers for senior students at Carleton Place High School. Objection—Board members, one of whom had not read the book, said it was unsuitable because of language and sexual content.
8. Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide by Barbara Coloroso
Challenges: 2007—The Council of Turkish Canadians objected to the inclusion of this book on a recommended reading list for a proposed Grade 11 history course on genocide in Toronto public schools.
Challenges: 2005—During Freedom to Read Week, the Lethbridge Public Library displayed books that had been challenged in North America. Objection—The complainant said that the book promoted suicide.
10. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Challenges: 1998—A parent in Simcoe County (ON) complained about the presence of this book and Robert Cormier’s novel We All Fall Down in two elementary school libraries. Objection—The parent said that teaching this book would be more appropriate at the Grade 11 level. The book is aimed at children aged 10 to 13. Update—The board considered the objection but decided to leave The Giver in school libraries for Grade 6, 7, and 8 students.
11. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Challenges: In 1978, school boards in Richmond and Langley, B.C., removed this book from their high schools. In Richmond, students sent a petition to the school board to protest the ban, and the Richmond Teacher-Librarians’ Association supported them. In Langley, a committee of school trustees, librarians and parents recommended keeping copies in counsellors’ offices. But these efforts failed; both bans stayed in effect.
12. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Challenges: In 2007, Ontario’s Halton Catholic District School Board voted to ban Philip Pullman’s trilogy of fantasy novels—The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass—from its schools. The board objected to “atheist” themes in the British author’s books.
13. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Challenges: 2008 — In Toronto, a parent formally complained about the use of this dystopian novel in a Grade 12 English class at Lawrence Park Collegiate. The parent said that the novel’s “profane language,” anti-Christian overtones, “violence” and “sexual degradation” probably violated the district school policies that require students to show respect and tolerance to one another.
14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Challenges: In 2000, a religious parent in Corner Book, Nfld., complained about the presence of these popular fantasy novels in an elementary school. The parent objected to the depiction of wizardry and magic, and the school principal ordered the books’ removal.
15. A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence
Challenges: In 1978, a school trustee in Etobicoke, Ont., tried but failed to remove this novel from high school English classes. The trustee objected to the portrayal of teachers “who had sexual intercourse time and time again, out of wedlock.” He said the novel would diminish the authority of teachers in students’ eyes.
16. The King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel
Challenges: 1993—The Regina (SK) Public School Division pulled the book off library shelves after school curriculum consultants decided that the book was inappropriate for students to read unsupervised. Objection—Martel, a historical writer who won the Ruth Schwartz Award for this book as well as the Vicky Metcalf Award for lifetime achievement, describes natives from the perspective of a scared young immigrant who has yet to overcome her prejudice. Update—When Groundwood reprinted the book, the publisher added a warning to explain this subjective approach, but the “offensive” passages were nevertheless deleted or modified without notifying the author.
17. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
Challenges: In 1976, a high school principal in Peterborough, Ont., removed this novel from the Grade 13 reading list. The principal “‘questioned its suitability’ because of the explicit language and descriptions of sex scenes.”
Challenges: 2006—A parent challenged this illustrated children’s fantasy book in the Edmonton Public Library.
19. Mélody by Sylvie Rancourt
Challenges: 1990–91—Even though the author received a grant from the Quebec Ministry of Cultural Affairs, this illustrated autobiography of an exotic dancer was denounced by Family Circle magazine as “pornography” in cartoon guise. Later, after recognizing the cover of Melody on the wall of the Planet Earth comic store in Toronto, a mother complained to the police, who charged four employees with “possession and sale of obscene material.”
20. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Challenges: In 1994, in Alberta’s legislature, Victor Doerksen called for the removal of profane, irreligious books from Alberta’s schools.
21. Incredibly Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Challenges: 2000—A patron of the Toronto Public Library complained about this novel for young readers about a teenage girl growing up and learning about sex.
22. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Challenges: 2006—After receiving an anonymous letter of complaint, the Dufferin-Peel (ON) Catholic District School Board removed this novel about a murder trial from its high school library shelves and the syllabus of a Grade 11 English course.
23. Such is My Beloved by Morley Callaghan
Challenges: In 1972, two Christian ministers tried to get this novel removed from a high school in Huntsville, Ont. The ministers objected to the novel’s depiction of prostitution and the use of “strong language.”
24. Three Wishes by Deborah Ellis
Challenges: 2006 — In Ontario, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) urged public school boards to deny access to this children’s non-fiction book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to students in the elementary grades.
25. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
In 1991, an Afro-Canadian organization called PRUDE (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education) in Saint John, N.B., sought to remove Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from school reading lists. PRUDE disliked the portrayal of racial minorities in both novels.
26. Trouble on Tarragon Island by Nikki Tate
Challenges: 2007—A librarian at the Elizabeth School in Kindersley, SK, withdrew this children’s novel from the library’s shelves. The novel depicts a dispute over clear-cut logging in B.C. Objection—In the novel, a girl’s grandmother joins an anti-logging group and poses semi-nude for a calendar. In the first chapter, several boys taunt the girl about her grandmother’s breasts, calling them “bazoongas.”
27. The Wars by Timothy Findlay
Challenges: 2011— The parent of an Ontario high school student complained to the Bluewater District School Board about the use of this novel in Grade 12 English literature classes.
28. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Challenges: 1998—A parent in Simcoe County (ON) complained to the school board about the presence of this title and Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver in two elementary school libraries. The Cormier novel begins with the description of the vandalizing of a family home and the brutal attack on a 14-year-old girl who lives in the house. Objection—The violence portrayed in the novel makes it unfit for public schools, the parent said.
29. Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille
Challenges: 2007—A patron of the Edmonton Public Library complained about this thriller. In the novel, which is set in 2002, a group of powerful Americans secretly plot to provoke a nuclear attack on the Middle East in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001. Objection—The complainant said Wild Fire was “just another hate-promoting novel.” Update—The library retained the book in its collection.
30. The Young in One Another’s Arms by Jane Rule
Challenges: In 1990, Canadian customs officers seized this novel en route from the United States to Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto. They were searching for sexually obscene literature, but later released the novel to the importer. The novel, which depicts gay characters positively, is legally published and sold in Canada.