Freedom to Read Week
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “everyone has the following fundamental freedoms…thought, belief, opinion, and expressions.”
Freedom to read is a part of that precious heritage. The freedom to choose what we read does not, however, include the freedom to choose for others.
The 2015 Canadian Library Association’s Challenges Survey showed that objections to expressive content in publicly funded libraries across Canada came from both the left and the right on the political and cultural spectrums.
As Alvin Schrader, the convenor of the Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee states, “the results echo the catchphrase, “There’s Something in My Library to Offend Everybody” which appeared many years ago on a sweatshirt produced by the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the British Columbia Library Association.”
Library staff in all types of libraries are among the front-line advocates and educators for freedom of expression, access, and privacy. Sandra Singh, the last CLA president and the chief librarian of the Vancouver Public Library, states, “intellectual freedom is fundamental to a free and democratic society, innovation, and human advancement. For well over 100 years, school, public, and academic libraries across Canada have worked tirelessly to ensure that every Canadian has access to the ideas and information they need to explore our world and enrich their lives. At times, this work has involved helping community members understand why libraries build broad collections that may contain materials considered offensive to some, as well as taking a stand against censorship when the need arises.”
Other organizations besides libraries protect and promote free expression in Canada and beyond. Three worth checking out include: The Free Speech Squad:IFEX (ifex.org) which is a non-profit network of organizations committed to defending and promoting free expression as a fundamental human right; The Digital Defenders: MediaSmarts (mediasmarts.ca), a not-forprofit charitable organization that provides teacher resources for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12; and The Cyber-Crusaders: OpenMedia (openmedia.org), a registered non-profit, non-partisan organization that defends the autonomy of the internet.
For the past 33 years the Book and Periodical Council of Canada has organized Freedom to Read Week in late February, a cross-country event encouraging Canadians to think about and reaffirm our commitment to intellectual freedom, guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Both the Medicine Hat Public Library and the Vera Bracken Library at the Medicine Hat College participate in the event with displays; it’s important to appreciate the freedom to read.
Keith McLean is a library assistant at the Medicine Hat Public Library.