Defending people’s freedom to read

Friday, February 20, 2015
CMHR Librarian Stephen Carney in the Museum’s Reference Centre

From February 22 to 28, people across Canada will celebrate Freedom to Read Week, an annual event founded by the Canadian Book and Periodical Council.The goal is to raise awareness about censorship in Canada and to encourage people to "think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom." In recent months, events around the world have seen complex and intense debates surrounding freedom of expression and censorship enter the mainstream. A commitment to intellectual freedom is as crucial today as it was two years ago, when I last wrote about Freedom to Read Week for the Museum.

The official logo for Freedom to Read Week 2015
Freedom to Read Week, February 22-28, 2015, http://www.freedomtoread.ca. censorship. freedom of expression. access to information.

Freedom of expression in Canada is protected through section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and as such is a fundamental right guaranteed to all Canadians, subject to limits as prescribed by law, as set out in Section 1 of the Charter. Limits to speech, such as Canada`s hate propaganda laws, exist as means of addressing the challenge that hate speech poses to our right to equality, which is set out in section 15 of the Charter. Freedom to Read Week recognizes that these limits exist, but also recognizes that the authority to exercise these limits cannot be delegated or appropriated, and that the arbitrary and willful seizure, destruction, banning and censoring of books, periodicals and other expressions must be opposed.

A document is displayed behind glass in a museum exhibit case.
An original signed document of the 1982 Proclamation of the Constitution Act, which enshrined Canada’s Charter, is on display at the Museum.

As the CMHR’s Librarian, I have been developing the Museum’s library collection of human rights focused books, journals and other resources, which will be available for the public to access in the Museum’s Reference Centre later this year. Helping people to find and access information, and defending their freedom to read this information, is one of the reasons I entered the library profession.

The Canadian Library Association’s Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom describes libraries as having a responsibility:

to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, libraries shall acquire and make available the widest variety of materials.

Defending the freedom to read is about ensuring that people can access words, images, sounds, and ideas that enrich, inform, entertain, challenge and sustain us as human beings. When our ability to express and communicate ideas to others is taken away, our capacity to progress and develop as a society is limited.

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