We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Oh Canada!

I get press releases. Here is the text from one of them, via Ideas Beyond Borders. I repeat most of the content, and I am sure IBB won’t object.

New standards for library book removal left students, parents, teachers, and board members of the Peel District School Board confused recently as they noticed the number of books in various school libraries drop by what may be as much as half. Adding to the confusion is the assertion by some that books, including significant titles such as Harry Potter, The Hungry Caterpillar, and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, were removed simply because they were published before 2008. The situation has prompted so much discontent that Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce wrote to the PDSB around September 13th, requesting a halt to the removals.

Like most school districts in Canada and other countries across the globe, libraries periodically conduct a process sometimes referred to as “weeding,” where some books are added, some removed, and some replaced with newer editions. Unheard of, however, is removing a book solely because of its publication date, particularly one as seemingly arbitrary as the year 2008. Getting a straight answer to what happened hasn’t been easy for parents, students, community members, or the media. The board’s education director, Rashmi Swarup, said in a statement, “PDSB teacher librarians have not been given the direction to remove all books published with a publication date older than 2008, nor has the board received provincial direction to remove particular books from our collections.” The chair of PDSB’s board of trustees, David Green, claims staff were told to focus on books published around 2008 or older as that was when there was last a major weeding. Students and other community members claim staff told them they were told to remove anything pre-2008.

Documents obtained by a group of parents, teachers, and other community members known as Libraries Not Landfills show that PDSB formulated their weeding methodology to comply with a directive issued by (plot twist!) Education Minister Stephen Lecce himself based upon a 2020 report commenting on systematic discrimination in the district. According to the documents, the first step of the process apparently places the age limit in question before two other measures aimed at improving equity and diversity. The district’s guidelines were written by the non-profit Canadian School Libraries (CSL) and are known as “MUSTIE”.

● M (Misleading) – a book is factually inaccurate/obsolete or contains stereotypes

● U (Ugly) – a book is torn, dirty, moldy, etc.

● S (Superseded) – a book has a newer edition

● T (Trivial) – a book has no literary/artistic merit or is poorly written

● I (Irrelevant) – a book doesn’t interest or serve the needs of its target community

● E (Elsewhere) – the book’s info can be better explored in another book or format

Some of these guidelines seem obvious – nobody wants a moldy book lying around. Others can be left to a troubling amount of interpretation – whether or not a book is trivial or irrelevant can vary wildly from student to student. Weeding out books with stereotypes is tricky too – what constitutes a “harmful” stereotype is somewhat subjective, and the line between that and accurately depicting certain cultural tropes can be quite blurry. Too heavy-handed an approach on this metric could lead to such important Canadian authors as Richard Wagamese, Margaret Atwood, and Dionne Brand being unfairly targeted for removal because they tackle race, ethnicity and gender in a manner some may find uncomfortable.

So what happens to the books that get weeded? The physically damaged ones should be thrown away, but what about those that don’t meet the trusted MUSTIE standards? Donating them might be nice, but no, apparently not. According to the documents obtained by Libraries Not Landfills, PDSB is straight up destroying many of the weeded books because “they are not inclusive, culturally responsive, relevant or accurate” and therefore “not suitable for any learners.” Tom Ellard, the founder of Libraries Not Landfills, says a landfill in the area told him they’re looking to hire extra staff because of all the discarded books they’ve received. That’s pretty astonishing (assuming it’s accurate) and incredibly troubling, evoking images and memories of tactics used by authoritarian regimes across history.

Coverage of the removals has been non-existent since Lecce’s letter to Peel District School Board in which he requested the current removal process to “immediately end.” His initial statement was, “Ontario is committed to ensuring that the addition of new books better reflects the rich diversity of our communities. It is offensive, illogical and counterintuitive to remove books from years past that educate students on Canada’s history, antisemitism or celebrated literary classics,” which seems to be a defense of the program overall while criticizing the scope and severity of the removals. His office has not commented since.

There is a website called End Banned Books. Worth supporting.

Canada has become a shitshow, politically and culturally. People like to go on about how “nice” Canadians are, but I always thought that something a bit patronising about that. The Canadians who hit the beaches at Normandy in 1944, liberating the continent from the Nazis, were magnificantly not “nice”. The truckers who objected to the Trudeau insanity over vaccine mandates had some of that old grit. That country could sorely use that spirit now, assuming any of it is left.

16 comments to Oh Canada!

  • Paul Marks

    “Stalin” and other Classical Marxists argued that the Frankfurt School interpretation of Marxism was not only a betrayal of Classical Marxism (because it, de facto, rejected the economic class theory of history), but was also “Politically Incorrect” because an obsession with race and sex would make a functioning society – impossible.

    The modern “Woke” (“Woke” means Frankfurt School “Critical Theory”, rather than Classical, Marxist) movement has decided to test that claim – and Canada is the tip of the spear of “Critical Theory” or “Woke” Marxism – for example mathematics is just white-male-straight (“cis gender”) exploitation and oppression – if a black-female-lesbian-with-one-leg says that 1+1=58 that is what must be followed – and if a white male “cis gender” person says 1+1=2 that just proves how evil he is, it proves he is an exploiter and oppressor.

    Most books have been written by white-male-“cis gender” people – i.e. written by exploiters and oppressors to justify their evil exploitation and oppression (in the “power relations” and “power structures”, so obviously these books must go. And if the person claiming that 1+1=2 is themselves black, female, homosexual, disabled…. that just means they have “internalised the ideology of their exploiters and oppressors” – they must be destroyed, it is their “true interests” to be destroyed (Rousseau thought of that before Karl Marx did).

    “But that means that people will die because their doctors will be replaced by witch doctors, bridges will collapse, factories will not function and…..”

    All such claims prove that the person making the claims is a racist-sexist-homophobe-Islamophobe-Transphobe trying to justify their exploitation and oppression. Such exploiters and oppressors must be destroyed along with their evil books. And if the person making the reactionary” claims is black, female, homosexual, disabled (and so on) themselves – well AGAIN that just means they have “internalised the ideology of their exploiters and oppressors” people making such “reactionary” claims must be destroyed – even if they are black, female, homosexual, disabled (and so on) themselves.

    But before anyone laughs at Canada – please remember that such doctrines are all over the Western world, including in the United Kingdom where they are mandated by such legislation as the Equality Act of 2010.

  • Paul Marks

    Short version.

    Classical Marxists opposed the Frankfurt School interpretation, the obsession with ethnic and sexual groups, because it is insane – and a functioning society can not be based upon insanity.

    The modern West has decided to test that – by trying to base itself on insanity.

    Getting rid of most books in the libraries is only the first step – the people who have read and understood these books must also be eliminated, because “reactionary” ideas, of “exploitation and oppression”, such as that 1+1=2, are in their heads.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    If it is true that all the books published before 2008 went to landfill, it is not a ridiculous exaggeration to say that it is reminiscent of Cambodia’s Year Zero.

    To be fair, all school libraries, and all libraries generally, must regularly remove books from their collections to make room for new accessions. It is also true that there are some classic works that I am very glad to have read but which I would not give to a young child because of racial stereotypes and so on. I have early memories of wondering why some of the older books in the library of my primary school seemed so down on dark skinned characters, or even dark haired characters.

    Meanwhile, in the US it is banned books week. I would be more sympathetic to this movement, but I have noticed that the people who are most outraged at the “tide of censorship” go awfully quiet when extracts from some of the specific books that have been “banned” are made available for all to read. Some of them are so sexually explicit that parents reading them out at school board meetings have been told to stop because of the obscenity. See this news story from last March: Georgia parent reading sexual content from library at school board meeting is cut off: ‘Inappropriate’

    “Excuse me, we have children at home,” Cherokee County school board member identified as Patsy Jordan told the angry mother after she read a sexually-charged passage from the book “Homegoing.” The school board member pointed out that the meeting was being livestreamed and said reading the passage was “inappropriate.”

    “Don’t you find the irony in that?” the parent responded. “You’re exactly saying exactly what I’m telling you! You’re giving it to our children! I would never give this to my children!”

    Video of the exchange has since received hundreds of thousands of views on social media.

    By the way, I have met generally well informed British people who are devoutly convinced that Ron DeSantis has banned any book depicting gay characters from school libraries, and even from sale anywhere in Florida.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    To bring together the two halves of my previous comment, how astonishing that there is all this fuss from PEN about removing books like “Homegoing” and “This Book is Gay” or “Gender Queer” from some school districts in the US, but total silence about removing every book published before 2008 from some school districts in Canada.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    “To bring together the two halves of my previous comment”

    Readers will deduce that I have been smited.

  • Fraser Orr

    I honestly don’t think this is complicated — it is the standard confusion over free speech. Most people think free speech is that I have a right to say what I want. In fact free speech is I’ll let you say whatever you want as long as you extend me the same courtesy. I see this all the time on social media. Lefties horrified that “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Heather has two mommies” being banned. I always say “I agree, now will you also agree with me how vile it is that Donald Trump was banned from Twitter?” Somehow they never get the point.

    And what is the difference? Well you can buy “To Kill a Mockingbird” for fifty cents are the local second hand store, but when you get memory holed on the internet you are gone forever.

    And to your point Natalie, I don’t think I do understand why books with racial stereotypes should be banned. For sure there is an argument for putting a rating on it to prevent young kids seeing it, but, my god, how much education is there in seeing how racial attitudes have changed through history? How educational is it for kids or any skin color to read a book and realize how vapid, how shallow, their ideas about what a vile racist place they live in. Showing them what real racism looks like, what it was like when it really was ubiquitous and horrifying. The vilest books are often the most educational because they tell us about how vile the author is, and let us know his terrible ideas, and judge them accordingly.

  • Roué le Jour

    Some young white men might read about how their predecessors treated blacks, and the see African Americans rioting, looting and killing and then come to entirely the wrong conclusion.

  • bobby b

    All those books written by authors pre-2008 – they’ve made enough money off of those books! Time for newer authors to have a chance to sell their books.

    (Lest I be accused of something untoward – this is an anti-theme from an old libertarian book.)

  • Runcie Balspune

    “… or contains stereotypes”

    Doesn’t that literally mean every single fiction book?

  • jgh

    If schools ban books with sterotypes in them, boy will those kids be shocked when they encounter the real world. It’s like banning books that mention rain.

  • Paul Marks

    Frasor Orr – it is the left who are banning “To Kill a Mockingbird” so I doubt that they are horrified by it being banned. You see the book has forbidden words in it.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    All those books written by authors pre-2008 – they’ve made enough money off of those books! Time for newer authors to have a chance to sell their books.

    Isn’t that backward? If you pull books from the library then people have to go buy them to read them, whereas I can borrow a book from the library with the author getting almost no compensation. (I think they get a small amount, I’m not sure exactly how that works though.) So, it seems getting your book pulled is more likely to make you money than lose it?

    Moreover, there is nothing quite so good for boosting a books sales as getting banned.

  • Colli

    it is the left who are banning “To Kill a Mockingbird” so I doubt that they are horrified by it being banned. You see the book has forbidden words in it.

    The LA Times complains about the book being banned in this article.
    Why would the left want to ban a book against racism?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Fraser Orr writes, “And to your point Natalie, I don’t think I do understand why books with racial stereotypes should be banned.”

    I don’t want anything banned. But all school libraries everywhere have a limit on how many physical books are on display, and all of them constantly remove old books to make room for new ones. All I’m saying is that if I were a children’s librarian and I were choosing between keeping Book A and Book B, and Book A featured derogatory racial stereotypes to a significant degree while Book B did not, I’d choose to keep Book B. Alternatively, I’d take the Bowdlerised (or whatever the equivalent word is) rewrite of Book A. For older works, some sort of rewrite is probably necessary anyway if you want children to read it because children don’t understand old-fashioned language. Or I’d do as you suggest and put a rating or warning on the book.

    I find it very sinister when books people have paid for on Kindles and other e-readers are “updated” with rewritten versions without the consent of the buyers. But changing at a stroke the wording of millions of books that people supposedly own is a whole different ball game from making some changes to the necessarily restricted selection available in a given children’s library.

    For sure there is an argument for putting a rating on it to prevent young kids seeing it, but, my god, how much education is there in seeing how racial attitudes have changed through history?

    Certainly there is. As I said in my comment above, I am very glad to have read so many old children’s books, and that is one reason why.

  • Mr Ed

    Surely the question is ‘Why is the government providing libraries at all?’

    Andrew Carnegie founded quite a few with his own money.

    Surely children should read books in ‘old’ language, if you want them to develop an understanding of the World?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Mr Ed writes, “Surely children should read books in ‘old’ language, if you want them to develop an understanding of the World?”

    Indeed they should. But one has to be realistic about the capabilities and preferences of younger children. When my children were both at primary school age we got from the library a modern retelling of “Black Beauty” which they liked very much. Wokeness wasn’t yet an issue; it was just re-written in more modern language than the original and somewhat abridged. At that age they would never have attempted to read Anna Sewell’s 1877 original.