I love my freedom to read whatever I want!
by Franke James
The Harper Government didn’t know what doors they opened for me by stomping on my right to free expression, and censoring my art in 2011.
Recently, I was honoured to be invited to create an illustration for Freedom to Read Week 2015. Digging into the assignment, I realized that I was part of a vibrant activist art movement that has been going strong for over three decades. Artists including Ken Rodmill, Blair Kerrigan, David Wyman, Dusan Petricic and more have put their minds to work to create graphic posters that tell Canadians why Freedom to Read Week matters. (Below are five of my favourites. Visit the gallery to see all of the posters created over 30 plus years.)
The starting point for my illustration was a wondrous feeling and belief I have…
I love my freedom to read whatever I want!
Hey, who the hell is going to take that away? It’s my right as a Canadian, isn’t it?
But the truth is that our Charter right to freedom to read is under attack. You see it in books being banned from schools and libraries, artwork and plays that are censored, Access to Information requests that are delayed, denied and blacked out. The Head of the Office of the Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, has warned many times of the growing federal government secrecy and why it is a threat. “Canadians should be angry. It’s really a fundamental democratic right in Canada [and] it’s linked to freedom of expression.”
In my own life, being censored was a nasty wake-up call. It shocked me out of my complacency. I filed numerous Access to Information requests to find out why the Harper Government censored my artwork in 2011. One telling quote from over 2,000 documents released to me, was this one provided by Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs. He wrote in an internal email (cough, cough, that he never thought I would see) “the artist’s work dealt mostly with climate change and was advocating against government policies”. In short, “Do Not Talk about Climate Change: It is against government policy!”
But being told not to talk about climate change was more than an offensive slap in the face. It just didn’t seem democratic or fair. Ironically the government’s heavy-handed efforts at message-control has backfired — it fuelled my poster campaigns on transit shelters that eventually spanned three major cities in Canada, and even travelled to Washington, DC. In May 2013, the Guardian UK wrote, “Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government’s attempt to silence her”. Many more news articles in North America and Europe followed, plus awards for my book Banned on the Hill, invitations to speak about free expression… And new opportunities I could never imagine — like this one, to create an illustration for Freedom to Read Week.
Freedom to Read Week is happening February 22-28, 2015 — in bars, in restaurants, in libraries, in public spaces across Canada people are raising their voices to protect this vital right. Indoors and outdoors, you’ll hear artists and authors, poets and politicians, and people from all walks of life speak up about the need to protect our intellectual freedom — a right which is guaranteed to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Anyone can host an event. Freedom to Read Week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council.
Freedom to Read Editorial: Julie Payne
“I love my freedom to read whatever I want.” That joyous phrase has been doing its sassy dance in my head since I first saw Franke James’s vibrant illustration for Freedom to Read Week 2015. And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate your freedom to read than to dive into the bounty of articles served up in this year’s Freedom to Read review.
Our writers have tackled some of today’s most challenging free expression issues. You can read about our featured champion of free expression, media lawyer Brian Rogers, the staggering failure of our access-to-information system, secret trade deals, controversy over library collections, imprisoned journalists, book challenges and much more.
You will also learn about an issue that is playing an increasingly significant role in Canadians’ lives: electronic surveillance. Read Bill Kowalski’s sobering account of the extent to which our online activities are being watched. Enjoy Mark Leiren-Young’s mischievous take on the impact of surveillance on writers. Find out what Hilary McLaughlin learned in her review of Julia Angwin’s book Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. And check out talented high school student Leslie Riahñezas’s helpful guide to protecting your online privacy in the “Get Involved” section.
In addition, journalist Mark Bourrie takes a hard look at the obstacles confronting anyone who attempts to gain access to government information. Groundwood publisher Sheila Barry shares her philosophy and passion for children’s books. And science librarian John Dupuis takes us behind the scenes in Canada’s federal library system.
After you’ve feasted on these stories, we challenge you to take the quiz in the “Get Involved” section to find out how you rate as a free expression expert. Whatever your score, we’ve got lots of resources so you can learn more, get involved and thoroughly celebrate your freedom to read!
— Julie Payne, Editor
Check out the Freedom to Read gallery to see all of the posters created over 30 plus years.
Anne McClelland, the Executive Director of the BPC and a member of its Freedom of Expression Committee is interviewed in The Canadian Children’s Book Centre newsletter:
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Freedom to Read Week and why it was created?
Anne McClelland: “The Book and Periodical Council’s (BPC) Freedom of Expression (FOE) Committee was formed in 1978 to raise awareness of attempts to ban works by authors such as Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro, J.D. Salinger and John Steinbeck from Canadian classrooms. The mandate of the FOE Committee is to monitor and oppose threats to free expression and to highlight issues of censorship, intellectual freedom and access to writing in Canada. In 1984, the FOE Committee launched Freedom to Read Week (FTRW), a unique annual program aimed at increasing the public’s understanding of these issues. 2015 is the 31st year that the committee has been organizing FTRW, which is celebrated by Canadians across the country.”