22 February 2009

Freedom to Read

Jean-Charles Harvey
Bootlegger d'intelligence en période de prohibition

The first day of Freedom to Read Week arrives and thoughts turn away from Paris to works suppressed closer to home. It seems each year we're reminded of Margaret Laurence and the Peterborough Pentecostals, the twisted thinking that places Harry Potter as an agent of atheism and those who fear brainwashing in children's books featuring two daddies. All worthy of attention, of course, but where is the context? We remember the recent decades, providing equal weight to each attempt at suppression, while ignoring past. Thus, the 'Challenged Books and Magazines List' presented by the organizing committee elevates a matter worthy of nothing more than a few words in a community newspaper:
Findley, Timothy. The Wars.
1991 - In Lambton County (ON), a high school student asked that the novel be removed from the English curriculum.
Cause of objection - A passage describes the rape of a Canadian soldier by his fellow officers during World War I. The book was said to pressure students to accept homosexuality.
Update - The school board upheld use of the book at the OAC (formerly Grade 13) level.
Not to say that underage high school students don't pose a real threat to our civil liberties, it's just that I can't help but wonder at the exclusion of works that were challenged by even greater forces. Why no mention of F. R. Scott's skillful defence of Lady Chatterley's Lover before the Supreme Court? Where is Jean-Charles Harvey, whose anti-clerical novel Les Demi-Civilisés cost his position as editor-in-chief of Le Soleil, the post of provincial librarian and the directorship of the Quebec's Office of Statistics?

Figures like Scott and Harvey brought us to where we are today, a time in which stories about gay fathers can be bought in bookstores, a time when thwarted characters can say 'God damn' in a novel. There is drama in their stories, recognition to be made and gratitude to be paid.

No comments:

Post a Comment