We were a bit surprised to find critical paragraphs about Freedom to Read Week in this article. Freedom to Read Week encourages Canadians to celebrate their freedom to read books, magazines and newspapers and raises Canadians’ awareness of censorship in Canada. This year, we celebrate our 35th anniversary.
We said nothing about the media executives who decided to block the terrorist’s video and manifesto because they direct privately owned companies. They have the right to decide what they will and will not transmit. People who object can patronize other companies.
But we wonder how Mr. Rothenburger would react if the same executives – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, for example – censored text or video that Mr. Rothenburger liked. What would he say?
What could he do but fulminate against the vagaries of censorship? Mr. Rothenburger is kidding himself if he thinks that unelected censors in private corporations or the government will always act according to his values and wishes.
He quotes and dismisses as fallacious a paragraph from our Freedom to Read website: “Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border.
“Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Free expression on the internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.”
We stand by these words. We prefer to let ordinary citizens decide what to read and think than to let anonymous government officials and self-appointed pressure groups decide for us. We support freedom of choice. We do not, of course, endorse the thinking and violence of extremists, and we advise all people to reject the thinking and violence of extremists.
We also abide by the laws of Canada, including the laws listed by Mr. Rothenburger’s article: the laws against defaming a person’s character, lying under oath, propagating hatred and inciting people to violence.
We acknowledge the right of judges sitting in court to restrict access to published works. We also reserve the right to criticize badly worded laws and bad judicial decisions that affect our expression rights and our freedom to read.
Mr. Rothenburger ends his article with these words: “The old argument in favour of total freedom of speech has been lost, but in its place is a new, nuanced and compassionate principle.” If he had bothered to ask us, we would have told Mr. Rothenburger that we have always acknowledged some limits on expression.
However, he’ll have to work harder to persuade us that censorship produces a more compassionate society.
R. FRANKLIN CARTER
Book and Periodical Council – Freedom of Expression Committee