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Ten emerging artists awarded $100,000


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(Edmonton, May 28, 2018) The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation today announced awards totaling $100,000 to the 10 recipients of its 2018 Emerging Artist Award.

Foundation Chair Ken Regan says “We are so pleased to be able to invest in advancing the careers of these outstanding young artists who truly will make a difference across Alberta – and Canada.”

  • Ali Bryan, writer, Calgary
  • Brett Dahl, theatre artist, Calgary
  • Emily Marisabel, theatre artist, Claresholm (Edmonton)
  • Jared Darcy Tailfeathers, multidisciplinary artist, Calgary
  • Jenna K. Rodgers, theatre artist, Calgary
  • Kelton Stepanowich, filmmaker, Ft. McMurray
  • Lizzie Derksen, writer, Edmonton
  • Pamma FitzGerald, visual artist, Calgary
  • Roydon Tse, composer, Edmonton (Toronto)
  • Timothy Brennan Steeves, violinist, Strathmore

Her Honour, the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, CM, AOE, LLD, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta presented the medals and awards at a private ceremony at Government House in Edmonton June 1.

These 10 recipients were selected from 147 applications in a two-tiered adjudication process overseen by The Banff Centre. The adjudication panel included: Mark Bellamy, theatre director;  Mel Kirby, manager, Calgary Opera Emerging Artist Development Program; Jane Ash Poitras, visual artist, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta 2011 Distinguished Artist; Thomas Trofimuk, novelist, poet.

Here is some background on the artists.

Ali Bryan, writer, Calgary

Ali Bryan is an award-winning novelist and creative non-fiction writer based in Calgary. Her first novel Roost(Freehand, 2013) won the Alberta Literary Awards George Bugnet Award for Fiction. National Post said, “Roost is hilarious. Ali Bryan is a master of deadpan delivery and is a seemingly endless source of deft one-liners.” Hersecond novel The Figgs was released on May 1, 2018; a third is currently in the works. Ali has twice been long-listed for the CBC Writes Creative Non-Fiction prize, and was shortlisted for the Alberta Literary Awards Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Award in 2016 in the same genre. She is also writing young adult literature and her first work in the YA genre –The Hill – is currently with an agent. The adjudicators found her writing to be “captivating, funny and so good’.





Brett Dahl, theatre artist, Calgary

Brett Dahl graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting in 2013. Since then, he has performed in more than 20 professional and independent shows. In 2015, he received the Theatre Calgary Stephen Hair Emerging Actor AwardIn addition to his demand as performer, Brett is a freelance educator, emerging playwright and Artistic Associate of Theatre Outré, a leading outlet for alternative queer theatre in Alberta. He is focused on creating a strong voice for queer work in Alberta, and on networking across Canada to share his own stories and nurture his voice as a playwright – all with the goal of capitalizing on the power of theatre to explore issues and empower others. Brett is committed to sharing the unique struggles and perspectives of marginalized voices: “The experience of sharing queer stories has not always been easy but it has enriched my artistic practice. Now, I am prepared and motivated to share my own stories and nurture my voice as a playwright.”


Emily Marisabel, theatre artist, Claresholm

Emily Marisabel graduated from the Rosebud School of the Arts Mentorship in Acting Program in 2017. She earlier attended York University for two years where she specialized in Devised Theatre. Emily’s love for producing and directing theatre led to the development of Light in the Dark theatre with its focus on sharing stories to illuminate hope, and inspire positive action. Her short term goal for the company is as a vehicle to bring theatre to young, rural audiences across Alberta, including through a series of theatre training camps under the banner of Spark of Creation. Emily is focused on capitalizing on the medium of live theatre to inform the audience, inspire hope, incite positive action and build community.




Jared Tailfeathers creates unique art that spans a variety of medium including graphic novels, musical instruments he invents and builds himself, illustrations, art installations and exhibitions. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Alberta College of Art and Design (2015) and is an active member and volunteer on the arts and culture scene in Alberta. Jared is the Visual Art Director for Indigenous Resilience In Music (IRIM), a not for profit indigenous led collective that fosters growth of aboriginal artists in many disciplines, focused on indigenous youth. In 2017 Tailfeathers released a self-published graphic novel series Spite (issues 1-3) and a graphic novel for young audiences titled Portifore and Boulderdecept: The Crow and the Beasts Bellow. He is described as “..part of an up and coming generation of artists who will cross bridges culturally and artistically with a new level of meaning, understanding and reconciliation.” Future plans include making prototype musical instruments and inventions accessible to a wide audience for collective ceative output. He is committed to promoting artistic growth in Calgary, especially for youth and children.


Jenna Rodgers is a mixed-race director and dramaturg based in Calgary. She is a graduate of the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Tampere (Finland) Master of Arts – International Performance Research program (2010); and of the University of Alberta, Bachelor of Arts, Drama (2008). Jenna founded and is Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre in Calgary – the only theatre company specifically dedicated to producing and developing work for artists of colour. She is known for her advocacy in arts equity; is a founding member of Calgary’s Theatre Arts Collective for Consent and Respect in Theatre (CART), and co-founder of the Calgary Congress for Equity and Diversity in the Arts (CCEDA). At Chromatic Theatre she is honing her knowledge about governance structures, policy-building, programming, curation, and the scope of running and nurturing a theatre company focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.


Kelton Stepanowich is a largely self-taught Metis/Cree artist from the community of Janvier, Alberta who honed his film skills by absorbing movies through the internet, and by working on the set of APTN’s series, Blackstone. Kelton’s short film Gods Acre – about a man determined to protect his land at all costs – was the only Alberta film to play in the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Gods Acre was also accepted into the 2016 TIFF directors lab, and Kelton one of 20 filmmakers from across the globe chosen to be part of this program. His feature film The Road Behind (2017) is in post production with release scheduled for 2019 on the Movie Network. The Unmoveable Harvey Sykes (2017) short documentary is also scheduled for release in 2019 on CBCshort Docs. He has received the 2015 Regional Aboriginal ‘artist of the year’ Recognition Achievement Award; the 2016 Whistler Film Festival Aboriginal Filmmaker Fellowship; a position in the 2016 ImagineNative Director Lab. His films have been shown at the International Film Festivals in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Whistler, Seattle, and Vancouver, and at the Maoriland Film Festival in New Zealand, FlickerFest Film Festival and ImagineNative Film Festival, Danforth East Short Film Festival, and others.  Kelton is inspired to share the world he sees through his films: “I want people to understand what being indigenous means to me – to experience my work and know that it’s me. I want to create films that have never been done before.”

Lizzie Derksen earned a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English Literature from MacEwan University in 2016. Her body of written work includes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; she has been published in literary magazines (both print and online), anthologies, arts and culture magazines, newspapers, short story vending machines, and even on t-shirts and coffee sleeves! She received an Alberta Foundation for the Arts individual project grant (2016) for her short film The Cricket, which went on to win an award of excellence at the Film and Video Arts Association of Alberta’s FAVA Fest 2018; the Edmonton Arts Council individual program grant (2016) for her collection of short stories about a child growing up in a southern Saskatchewan bible college town; and the Gloria Sawai Senior English Prize for her short story “Thrift”. For 2018, she is embarking on the first draft of a full-length novel, seeking representation by an agent, writing her next film, revising an unpublished work, and continuing to submit her film and written work to festivals and publications. The Emerging Artist award adjudicators identified the value of the award as a launch for this writer who they believe holds promise to be a ‘really great novelist/writer’.

Pamma FitzGerald’s first fine arts degree from the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) was in Drawing (2009), but her second was in Ceramics (ACAD, 2017). She has merged her drawing skills into mixed media, and specifically ceramics. In her words “I aim to continue merging collage and clay, words and images, and exploring creative collaborations.” She is fascinated by the combination of weight, shape and capacity that ceramics have to carry imagery, and recognizes enormous potential for re-thinking ceramics artistic expression. She has been recognized with the ACAD Board of Governor’s Graduating Student Award for Artistic Achievement in Ceramics (2017); an Alberta Foundation for the Arts Cultural Relations Project Grant; and the Illingworth Kerr Travel Study Scholarship, among others. Her works have been displayed at the Alberta Craft Council Gallery (current); the Art Vault, Calgary; at 2017 Dish, an International Juried Exhibit at Medalta Pottery, Medicine Hat. She has had pieces purchased for numerous collections, including the Alberta Foundation for the Arts; Encana collection; the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC; and private collections in England, Canada, France and the United States.

Roydon Tse is an emerging artist with an impressive and widely disseminated body of work, recognition by prestigious organizations and a demonstrated leader on the local, national and international scenes. His portfolio consists of over forty works for a variety of mediums, including music for orchestra, wind ensemble, chamber ensembles, choir, opera, and electronic media. His works have been recorded and performed by eminent ensembles such as the Brussels Philharmonic, Paris Opera Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Shanghai Philharmonic, Brno Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Land’s End Ensemble, and the Cecilia String Quartet. Notable career awards include three top prizes from the SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers; the Canadian Music Center’s Prairies Emerging Composer Prize; Edmonton Mayor’s Stantec Emerging Artist Award; and the Grand Prize from the Washington International Composition Competition. In 2017 he was named as one of CBC Music’s Top 30 under 30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians. His long term goal is to establish a career as a freelance orchestral composer in Canada and internationally, and to continue exploring his voice as a composer and work on developing larger scale works for orchestra and chamber ensembles.

Timothy Steeves hails from Strathmore, Alberta  and has been playing violin since childhood. He is finalizing the requirements for a Doctor of Musical Arts in Violin Performance from Rice University, and holds a Masters and a Bachelor of Music (Violin Performance) from the University of Michigan. He is currently the Acting Associate Concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under musical director, Bramwell Tovey, and maintains an active solo and chamber music career. In recent years, he has performed in Alberta, British Columbia, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, New Brunswick, New York, Quebec, Texas, and Wisconsin among others. His violin performances have been broadcast by Radio Canada, BBC Music, and National Public Radio. Timothy is strong advocate for new classical music, and as the founding violinist of a new music ensemble, Latitude 49, has performed and recorded dozens of new works including many world premieres. Latitude 49’s first recording, Curious Minds, was released in 2017. His immediate goals are to increase the breadth and profile of his performances as a soloist, chamber musician and an orchestral player. Upcoming projects include an education residency at Princeton University, collaborating with the Chicago Fringe Opera, tour with soprano Susan Narucki, and new commissioned works by Juri Seo and Evan Ware.

About the Awards:

The late Fil Fraser, the late Tommy Banks, the late John Poole and Jenny Belzberg (Calgary)  established the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation in 2003 to celebrate and promote excellence in the arts. The endowments they established were created with philanthropic dollars and gifts from the Province of Alberta and Government of Canada.

Since it’s inception in 2003, the Foundation has awarded $1,040,000 to 17 Distinguished Artists and 53 Emerging Artists.

The Foundation administers two awards programs:

  • The Emerging Artist Awards program, established in 2008, gives up to 10 awards of $10,000 each to support and encourage promising artists early in their careers. Emerging Artist Awards are given out in even years.
  • The Distinguished Artist Awards program, begun in 2005, gives up to three awards of $30,000 each in recognition of outstanding achievement in, or contribution to, the arts in Alberta. Distinguished Artist Awards are given in odd years. The 2019 Distinguished Artist Awards celebration will be in Maskwacis, Battle River region in September 21, 2019.

For more information see:


President Todayville Inc., Honorary Colonel 41 Signal Regiment, Board Member Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award Foundation, Director Canadian Forces Liaison Council (Alberta) musician, photographer, former VP/GM CTV Edmonton.

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Ontario librarian fired for objecting to ‘hidden’ censorship of conservative books

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From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

Before being fired, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s chief librarian Cathy Simpson wrote, ‘Viewpoints that don’t conform to progressive agendas are rarely represented in library collections and anyone who challenges this is labelled a bigot.’

An Ontario librarian has been fired from her position after she challenged the clandestine censorship of conservative books in an op-ed in a local newspaper. 

On March 19, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library dismissed their CEO Cathy Simpson after suspending her over an opinion piece which she wrote in The Lake Report arguing against what is effectively censorship in libraries.   

“Viewpoints that don’t conform to progressive agendas are rarely represented in library collections and anyone who challenges this is labelled a bigot,” she wrote in the February 22 article.  

In her article, which she was invited to write by the local paper, Simpson revealed that while it may not be readily noticed, libraries are increasingly impacted by censorship, mainly by the exclusion of books which offer viewpoints contrary to left-wing political thought.  

“This hidden library censorship takes two forms: the vigorous defence of books promoting diversity of identity, but little to no defense of books promoting diversity of viewpoint, and the purchase of books promoting ‘progressive’ ideas over ‘traditional’ ideas,” she explained.  

She added that more conservative viewpoints are often supressed in libraries through the claim that opposing ideas are “harmful.” 

Simpson referenced an instance in 2019 when LGBT activists attempted to prevent writer and feminist Megan Murphy from speaking on the impact of transgenders “rights” on women and children at the Toronto Public Library.   

However, LGBT activists took offence with her article, especially because Simpson referenced the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), an American civil rights organization. 

Shortly after the article was published, local resident Matt French wrote to local news website NiagaraNow arguing that Simpson was supporting FAIR’s “right-wing dog whistles” and promoting “right-wing propaganda.”  

“While it is true that FAIR has challenged diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at public institutions, it is important to understand the context and basis for these challenges,” she explained.   

“FAIR’s mission and founding principle are embodied in the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the man proudly quoted on the homepage of its website: ‘We should all be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin,’” Harris added.  

Nonetheless, the library board argued that Simpson’s article had caused library staff to lose confidence in her leadership. As a result, they fired their CEO who had worked with them for nearly a decade, just three years before she was eligible for her pension.  

The board’s decision seems to confirm what Simpson argued in her article, namely that a push for the inclusion of a wider range of political viewpoints on library shelves is met with censorship and personal attacks.

“We will only be truly free to read when authors are no longer afraid to write on any topic, publishers no longer prioritize an author’s identity over their work’s merit, teachers no longer present students with only one viewpoint on issues, and library workers ensure their collections are balanced to include a variety of perspectives on controversial topics,” Simpson had written.  

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Empty Shelves: The Noxious Politics Behind a Canadian School Board’s Massive Book Purge

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From C2C Journal

By Marjorie Gann

Libraries have served as storehouses of diverse knowledge since ancient times and over the centuries blossomed into bastions of intellectual freedom. So why did one of Canada’s largest school boards recently decide to remove most of the books from its own libraries? Children’s book author and retired schoolteacher Marjorie Gann examines the discreditable politics behind the Peel District School Board’s plan to send books written before 2008 to the landfill, and the literary carnage caused by this shocking decision. With Canada’s entire children’s book industry – publishers, librarians and writers’ groups – now apparently in the thrall of wokism, it has fallen to a small group of outraged parents and teachers to defend students’ freedom to read.

When I was 10 years old I discovered Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women. From the very first line – “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” – I was hooked. I loved the world of the March sisters, their sisterly rivalries and affections and their earnest efforts at amateur dramatics, even though I had no idea what Pilgrim’s Progress was or what it meant to be in the Slough of Despond. I just thought it was enchanting how Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy sang and sewed together and then went off to the Hummels’ cottage to donate their Christmas breakfast to a poor, hungry family.

Alcott introduced me to a world that was totally alien to my own. As a Jewish family, we didn’t celebrate Christmas. There was no copy of Pilgrim’s Progress in my house. I also didn’t have ancestors who fought in the Civil War as the March girls’ father did; my grandparents arrived in America in 1906. The world of Little Women captivated me precisely because it was so different from my own. Little did I know the “harm” it was causing.

Beloved…but possibly harmful: Sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March have charmed readers since Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was published in 1868. Recently, however, Ontario school board bureaucrats have claimed such classic works contain “explicit and implicit biases” and must be removed from school library shelves. At right, a scene from the 1994 movie adaptation starring Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder.

According to diversity bureaucrats in charge of libraries at Ontario’s second-largest school board, I should never have been allowed anywhere near my favourite book, because it says nothing about my own “lived experiences.” According to the board’s internal training documents, classic novels such as my beloved Little Women are rife with “explicit and implicit biases” that make them “inherently racist, classist, heteronormative, and/or sexist.” Rather than bringing joy and an appreciation for the wider world around them, these books are actually “causing harm” to young, impressionable readers. And the only proper place for this sort of toxic literature is the garbage dump.

Subterfuge at the School Board

In April 2023 Tom Ellard, a parent in Mississauga, Ontario, was given a school training manual clandestinely photocopied by a teacher from the Peel District School Board (PDSB), which covers a sprawling suburban area west of Toronto. Ellard is well-known locally for his participation on school councils. But in this instance, it was his discretion that really mattered. Before accepting the document, Ellard had to promise not to reveal the teacher’s identity. Good to his word, today Ellard won’t even disclose the whistleblower’s gender.

Cloak and dagger: After promising never to reveal the name of his source, Mississauga parent Tom Ellard was quietly handed an internal training document describing a massive purge of library books at Ontario’s Peel District School Board (PDSB). (Source of photo: Nicole Brockbank/CBC)

Why such intrigue at a publicly funded school board? Because the document in question describes a plan for a veritable intellectual putsch at PDSB libraries. And in doing so, reveals the damage being done by “anti-racist” activists hiding within our public learning institutions.

The manual in question is entitled Weeding and Audit of Resources in the Library Learning Commons Collection. Weeding and auditing are generally uncontroversial aspects of a librarian’s job. All library shelves should be regularly reviewed to ensure their books are in serviceable shape and contain accurate information; any damaged or outdated items should be discarded or given to charities. But the PDSB’s weeding and audit plan was by no means regular maintenance. Rather, it contained detailed instructions for librarians at the board’s 259 schools on how to destroy the vast bulk of their book collections.

Rife with the jargon of critical race theory, the 54-page document explains that to “promote anti-racism, inclusivity, and critical consciousness” in the school library system, it is necessary to remove “any harmful, oppressive, or colonial content from our collections.” To this end, most books written prior to 2008 (or perhaps all; the document is unclear) are to be eliminated “in order to maintain the currency and relevance of the collection while ensuring that the resources…remain culturally responsive.”

This 15-year limit applies to a sweeping range of non-fiction books, including ancient history, folk and fairy tales, religion and philosophy. Purged books are to be destroyed in a “sustainable manner” by being sent to a landfill or shredded. They are not to be sent to developing countries or even given away to charitable organizations like Little Free Library, because that would merely spread the “harm.”

In addition to burying non-fiction books older than 15 years, the plan also calls for the removal of similarly-aged works of fiction: everything from classic novels to simple picture books for the youngest readers. No literary work, no matter how beloved, timeless or innocent, is to be protected. “All items should be deemed potential candidates for weeding,” the document reads. “The category of ‘Classics’ typically consists of Euro-centric texts that were penned long before students’ birth dates, and may not reflect the lived experiences of students.” Ideological content and age, rather than literary merit, are the determining factors.

Spare nothing: According to the PDSB document Weeding and Audit of Resources in the Library Learning Commons Collection (excerpted on right), “any harmful, oppressive, or colonial content” must be removed, including potentially all fiction and non-fiction written prior to 2008. Purged books are to be destroyed in a “sustainable manner” – that is, shredded or sent to a landfill. (Source of photo: The Custodian)

In an interview, Ellard says he was initially stunned by the plan’s scale and scope. “It was so at odds with the purpose of a library that I didn’t believe it at first,” he says. “I couldn’t believe PDBS was directing its staff to manage their libraries in this way.” It was true, however. The teacher who handed the document to him reported that other educators at the PDSB were equally “alarmed” by its implications, but feared reprisals – from reassignment to termination – if they spoke out against it. Hence the secrecy.

In a set of FAQs appended to the guidelines, the Weeding and Audit manual anticipates the inevitable reaction to a plan that contemplates the mass destruction of library books. There’s a jargon-filled, critical race theory-based answer to every objection – from why burial is required to what to say if anyone asks why the shelves are bare. “In Peel, we must acknowledge that society operates in white supremacist structures where socially constructed hierarchies…privilege some and marginalize others,” it suggests as a response to questions about empty shelves. “These resources are being weeded because they are causing harm … because they are not inclusive, culturally responsive, relevant or accurate (racism, stereotypes, microaggressions, lack of representation or erasure of communities, slurs, oppression etc.).” The document recommends that, to avoid any unpleasantness, all weeding should be done when the library is closed.

Saving books begins here: Concerned by the implications of the PDSB’s radical “Weeding & Audit” plan, Ellard and other parents have created the group Libraries Not Landfills to push back against the mass-destruction of books.

Ellard’s informant explained that some librarians were eagerly following the new rules – removing and sending the bulk of their collections to a landfill – while others were hesitant to take such drastic action. When Ellard showed the purloined document to his local school trustee, they said it was the first time they’d heard about the plan. To bring greater attention to the issue, the next month Ellard organized other concerned parents, grandparents and educators into a group they’ve called Libraries Not Landfills. Its motto: “No society that destroys books has ever ended up on the right side of history!” The pushback thus began in earnest.

Book Burying and its Fallout

The broader public learned of the situation at the PDSB early in the 2023/24 school year when Libraries Not Landfills convinced the CBC to report on Erindale Secondary School student Reina Takata’s complaints about her school’s library. At the end of the previous school year, Reina explained, the library at her school was well-stocked with many of her favourite books, including popular young adult series Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, plus the 1977 civil rights novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. But when she returned in September, these books plus many others were gone. “There [were] rows and rows of empty shelves with absolutely no books,” Reina told the CBC. She figures half of her library’s books had disappeared over the summer.

“Rows and rows of empty shelves with absolutely no books”: Erindale Secondary School student Reina Takata (top right) explained to the media that when she returned to school after summer break, many of her favourite books were missing from library shelves, including the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. At bottom, a photograph released by Libraries Not Landfills showing a container of purged books destined for the garbage dump. (Source of top right photo: Nicole Brockbank/CBC)

Beyond supplying the CBC with eyewitness accounts from Reina and other students and parents, Ellard’s group also provided the weeding document along with proof of its malign effect, including photos of empty shelves and copies of books rescued from containers destined for the dump. Among the books confirmed to have been discarded are pre-kindergarten mainstay The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Anne Frank’s iconic Diary of a Young Girl. Rescued books include the Curious George series and a host of other innocuous picture books. Even the reliably-left-leaning CBC had to admit the process made no sense, and gave the last word to Reina. “I feel that taking away books without anyone’s knowledge is considered censorship,” she said.

Irrefutable evidence that publicly-funded school libraries were deliberately destroying perfectly good books for nakedly political reasons led to a swift and heated public reaction elsewhere in the media. Ontario’s normally cautious Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, immediately ordered a stop to the practice. “It is offensive, illogical and counterintuitive to remove books from years past that educate students on Canada’s history, antisemitism or celebrated literary classics,” Lecce said via press release.

“Offensive, illogical and counterintuitive”: Once news broke, Ontario’s normally cautious Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, ordered an immediate stop to the PDSB’s weeding and audit program. (Source of photo: Taymaz Valley, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Having been caught in the act, PDSB leadership reacted by pointing fingers elsewhere. Despite earlier efforts by Ellard’s group to raise the alarm with the board last spring, PDSB chair David Green told CBC’s Power & Politics that “during this period of time we were kept in the dark; we were not aware of what was taking place.” Green further ascribed the eagerness with which some school staffers had destroyed their own books to “a miscommunication.” Yet they were simply following the explicit instructions handed to them by board administrators.

In a response to questions from C2C Journal, Malon Edwards, the PDSB’s manager of communications, said via email that the board “has paused our disposal of books.” Regarding claims that beloved works such as Anne Frank’s Diary or the Harry Potter series had been purged, she said examples of those titles remain “in circulation” and that school librarians have been instructed “to keep books with any publishing date that are accurate, relevant to the student population, inclusive, not harmful, and support the current curriculum from the Ministry of Education.” Edwards did not provide information on how many or which books had already been consigned to the landfill. (Follow-up reporting by the CBC revealed that some librarians removed “more than half of their library’s books.”)

Edwards’ vague responses leave Ellard uneasy. Libraries Not Landfills has called on the PDSB to “make public the list of the materials already weeded” and to restore any purged books that have not yet been destroyed to library shelves. And despite all the media attention and ministerial instruction, Edwards’ claim that weeding has been “paused” suggests it could be restarted once the hubbub dies down. “As parents we lack transparency and accountability for the loss of the materials,” says Ellard. “And we have no clarity on who is responsible for the path forward.” As for repairing the damage already done, Ellard figures it could take between four and nine years and $16.2 million to repopulate the PDSB’s school libraries to their pre-purge levels.

Who Thinks Treating Books as Garbage is a Good Idea?

Ascribing the implementation of the PDSB’s plan to “a miscommunication” is obvious legerdemain. In fact, the story of how the book purge came to be provides clear evidence of the dangers posed by handing administrative control of public institutions to anti-racist activists operating under the guise of promoting diversity, inclusion and equity. Make no mistake, this is the same poisonous ideology that has infected universities across North America, imposing race-based hiring, marginalizing conservative-minded professors, cancelling invited speakers with contrary points of view and generally contributing to campuses devoid of intellectual freedom or merit.

The story of how a public school board declared picture books about curious monkeys and hungry caterpillars unfit for circulation took shape three years ago when the PDSB, Canada’s second-largest school board comprising the racially-diverse Toronto suburbs of Mississauga and Brampton, was riven by accusations of racism. A black parents’ group, Advocacy Peel, also known as Peel African Youth Advocacy, complained loudly that their children were underperforming at school due to board-wide systemic discrimination (while ignoring obvious socio-economic factors such as rates of single-parenthood and family income).

Wokist rage: the PDSB’s plan to purge its libraries of books based on “anti-racist” ideology began as a reaction to claims by activist group Advocacy Peel that the school board was discriminating against black students. Shown at right, Advocacy Peel members disrupt a PDSB meeting in May 2023. (Source of photo: Advocacy Peel/Facebook, retrieved from CBC)

Seeking to calm the waters, Lecce dutifully ordered an investigation. Based on recommendations of the Review of the Peel District School Board, in March 2020 the province provided the PDSB with 27 directives to correct the alleged problems. Most were focused on governance issues and hiring practices, but Directive #18 called for “a comprehensive diversity audit of schools – including naming, mascots, libraries and classrooms…to ensure that they are inclusive and culturally responsive.”

The province, perhaps naïvely, told the board to check its libraries; anti-racist zealots at the board took this as permission to impose their own political agenda on the entire library system. From the slender thread of Directive #18, it appears PDSB bureaucrats concocted the entire weeding plan. The document clandestinely handed to Ellard does not list an author other than “Library Support Services,” but Ellard’s group has also released an internal memo from Bernadette Smith, the PDSB’s Superintendent of Innovation and Research, promoting the weeding plan and reminding board employees to “follow the guidance from the training sessions” and to dispose of all culled library materials “in a sustainable manner.”

Burning books is bad for the environment, so bury them instead: An internal memo from Bernadette Smith, PDSB Superintendent of Innovation and Research (left), and released by Libraries Not Landfills, encourages school librarians to dispose of all purged books “in a sustainable manner.” (Sources: (photo) Nicole Brockbank/CBC; (screenshot) LinkedIn)

The eagerness with which the PDSB’s administrators embraced the idea of destroying books in the name of diversity appears consistent with the board’s growing reputation for intolerance in other areas. The National Post, for example, recently published a front-page investigation into rampant anti-Semitism at the PDSB following the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. As the Post reported after interviewing numerous teachers at the board, “Some principals are using social media tools like X and Facebook to broadcast hateful content toward Israel and Jews on feeds that are displayed in school foyers and over the internal public address system.” Several Jewish teachers told the Post that, given this atmosphere, they feared for their safety.

The Rot Spreads

Beyond publicly-funded education institutions such as universities and school boards, the rejection of pluralism and freedom of thought is apparently infecting other components of the literary world as well. For example, well-known Canadian children’s book publisher Tundra Book Group states on its website that it is “currently only accepting manuscript and art submissions by creators from underrepresented communities. If you identify as Black, Indigenous or as a person of color, [sic] LGBTSQI2S+, having a disability or have ever had refugee status, we want to hear from you!” Tundra’s commitment to diversity appears to exclude a vast array of established Canadian children’s authors and illustrators, as well as most of this country’s young readers.

Not just school boards are infected by the new racism: Children’s book publishers, including Tundra Book Group, have become obsessed with identity over literary merit.

Other major children’s publishers, including KidsCan and Second Story, have similar submission policies. And in 2021, Annick Press issued a call for applications for a mentorship program for writers “whose perspectives have historically been excluded from children’s publishing. This includes but is not limited to LGBTQ2SIA+ writers, Black writers, Indigenous writers, writers of color, [sic] writers living with disabilities, and anyone living at the intersections of these identities.”

Curiously, all these publishing houses remained silent throughout the PDSB scandal. But when news broke around the same time that the Waterloo Catholic District School Board in southwestern Ontario was screening books in a reading contest to limit access by young students to new books with explicit LGBTQ themes, Annick and two other children’s publishers released a joint statement declaring, “It is especially critical that all kids, including those who are 2SLGBTQIA+ and from other underrepresented communities, have access to stories that celebrate the rich and diverse experiences of the children we serve across the country.” It appears book publishers are more interested in selling new books with a particular ideological bent than they are in defending the foundational issue of the freedom to read any book.

A Delightful Diversity of Children’s Literature in Canada

The argument that publishers need to impose artificial discriminatory policies to diversify their lists, or that school library collections need to be culled to ensure young readers have a “rich and diverse” reading experience, is itself a falsehood. It is belied by the fact that Canada has for decades been well-supplied with a broad range of stories and perspectives aimed at children. There is no diversity problem in Canada’s school libraries or the publishing world in need of fixing.

Judith Saltman’s authoritative 1987 Modern Canadian Children’s Books charts the emergence of a distinctly Canadian children’s literature early in the 1970s, citing numerous examples of ethnic diversity in subject matter and authorship. Any well-stocked children’s library will have countless books illuminating the Canadian experience from multiple perspectives. Shizuye Takashima’s 1971 A Child in Prison Camp, for example, recalls the author’s experience in an internment camp during the Second World War.

Diversity aplenty: Canadian children’s literature has a long record of diverse authors and stories, including, from top, Betty Waterton’s Pettranella, Shelley Tanaka’s Michi’s New Year and Tololwa M. Mollel’s Governor-General’s Award-Winning The Orphan Boy.

Indigenous stories have also been a popular theme for young readers in this country for many decades. In 1977, Canadian children could read Peter Pitseolak’s Escape from Death, a story of two Inuit hunters on a fast-moving ice floe. As a teacher, I frequently used Tundra Books’ series of beautifully painted and retold legends by Mohawk artist C. J. Taylor (published between 1990 and 1994) in the classroom. Michael Kusugak’s wonderful Arctic stories, like 1988’s A Promise is a Promise, seamlessly merged legends of the past with life in the North today. Since his books were originally published by Annick, it’s puzzling that today the same publisher thinks Indigenous authors are historically “excluded.”

Concerning LGBTQ and disabled authors, Mom and Mum are Getting Married by Ken Setterington and Alice Priestly came out in 2004. And as far back as 1972, Jean Little drew on her own experience of near-blindness to write one of Canada’s most memorable children’s books about living with a disability, From Anna. None of these books was the result of political zealotry. They appeared organically from publishers and writers with stories to tell.

Further, books with white, heterosexual main characters can have something important to say to all readers. Janet Lunn’s The Root Cellar shifts back and forth in time between Ontario and the American South, bringing to life the trauma of the American Civil War. The Pit Pony by Joyce Barkhouse paints a vivid picture of the dangerous working conditions for turn-of-the-20th-century Cape Breton coal miners, including child labourers. And Scholastic’s Dear Canada series of fictionalized diaries presents a comprehensive view of Canadian history, from the filles du roi of mid-17th-century Quebec to the Great Depression. Allowing our youngest citizens to learn about our shared history is critical to developing a strong sense of Canadian identity in the next generation.

Historically “excluded”? Contrary to recent claims, Indigenous stories have occupied a special place for decades in Canadian school libraries.

As for older classics dismissed as racist, sexist and colonialist by the PDSB’s weeding document, such a sneering characterization ignores the transcendental nature of all great literature. My father was born in Latvia in 1903; his favourite boyhood book was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, which he read repeatedly as he vicariously sailed on the Hispaniola with young Jim Hawkins and the pirates. The book is as Eurocentric as you can get, but it nonetheless captured my father’s imagination and in doing so introduced him to a lifelong love of reading – just as Little Women did for me.

As a former elementary school teacher, I share Ellard’s shocked reaction to any plan that seeks to destroy books on the basis of age or ideology. Doing so requires a profound ignorance of what teaching reading is about: informing the naturally curious child about animals, plants and planets; expanding vocabulary and developing sensitivity to the beauty of the English language; showing how different characters living in different times and places think and feel; and experiencing wonder as you hear toads talk, see brooms fly or look into magic mirrors. All are crucial aspects in the formation of young minds.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is one of the most successful books I’ve ever taught in the classroom. This story of an encounter between Mary and Colin, two spoiled upper-class English children, and Yorkshire cottage boy Dickon touches all youngsters regardless of their “lived experience.” Admittedly, the book is marred by incidental racist language; when Mary arrives at her uncle’s manor from colonial India the maid expresses surprise that she isn’t “black” and the child erupts in rage at the affront. It’s a passage that bears some unpacking.

But rather than cancelling the best children’s book ever written, I always tried to explain the prejudices of the Edwardian period. Kids can understand that people thought differently in the past – even if some adults can’t. Illustrating a different issue, The Wind in the Willows has no female protagonist. But must we toss aside Kenneth Grahame’s poetic evocation of a vanished countryside, with its hilarious satire of Mr. Toad’s bombast, because it fails some arbitrary gender quota?

The greatest stories ever told: Despite accusations of racism, sexism and colonialism, classic literature such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows offers young readers the opportunity to embark on a lifelong love of reading. Shown, top to bottom, scenes from movie adaptations of each book.

Arguments that books must meet post-modern representational balance standards (of the sort demanded by the U.S.-based Education Trust) or be removed from circulation is a  mischaracterization of diversity. The goal should be to encourage a broad diversity throughout the library collection, rather than demand removal of any individual book deemed insufficiently “diverse” regardless of its other merits. Diversity is achieved through a plurality of viewpoints, characters and stories, not by enforcing one particular template on each and every book.

Canada’s Self-Proclaimed Voices of Freedom Fall Silent

The swift rebuke dealt to the PDSB’s book-burial scheme by parents, the media and Ontario’s government suggests the values of intellectual freedom and literary excellence still count for something, at least in the public’s mind. Yet many other necessary voices were disappointingly silent throughout this affair. Together with a group of other children’s book authors, I wrote to three well-known Canadian organizations that claim to defend the freedom to read, reminding them that “books do not belong in landfills, but in the hands of children,” and urging them to “issue a public statement condemning the actions of this publicly-funded school board.” The reaction from The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), the Ontario Library Association and PEN Canada (a free expression lobby group) are revealing, and deeply troubling.

Around the time of the PDSB library scandal, TWUC issued several other statements on book bans. In September 2023, in response to a proposal in Brandon, Manitoba to create a parental committee to review books at the local school board for sexual and gender identity content, the organization declared that it “notes with growing concern the trend in Canada of challenges to specific books in schools and libraries across the country. Very often those with a focus on LGBTQIA2s+ perspectives and stories are the target of coordinated complaints.”

Brave defenders of intellectual freedom…some of the time: The organizations depicted above claim to support the freedom to read, yet all abandoned their sense of purpose when confronted with the PDSB’s book purge.

Then in November, the group addressed the previously mentioned “access restrictions” to LGBTQ+ books at the Waterloo Catholic School Board for works that were part of a student reading competition called “Forest of Reading.” The unequivocal response: “TWUC believes any access restrictions for Forest of Reading shortlisted titles must be immediately removed. Furthermore, policies that keep students from books for any reason must be reconsidered.” (Emphasis added.)

You might think that dumping library books in a landfill would be “keeping students from books,” but in this case, TWUC somehow lost its sense of outrage. “Initial media reports suggested an extreme book-culling policy had been implemented,” it stated blandly. “The PDSB has since clarified its intention was to assess the collection, and replenish shelves with diverse books reflective of the broader community.” The shelves at PDSB schools are now half-empty. Ho-hum.

Like TWUC, the Ontario Library Association also claims to stand resolutely in favour of unfettered reading. According to its Statement on Intellectual Freedom, “The Ontario Library Association…[is] committed to the fundamental rights of intellectual freedom, the freedom to read and freedom of the press…Materials are not excluded from library collections based on race, place of birth, origin, ethnic origin, ethnicity, citizenship, age, creed, disability, family structure, sex, and sexual orientation.” Furthermore, the first line of its official statement on the rights of children states that, “Children in public libraries have the right to intellectual freedom.” Sounds clear enough.

Yet when asked to comment on the PDSB situation, the organization meekly deferred to the Ontario School Library Association’s equity-based Guide to the Selection and Deselection of School Library Resources. This document allows for the removal of a book if it “contradicts policies on diversity and inclusion as outlined by other school board documents.” Hardly a resounding endorsement of freedom to read; more like rank hypocrisy that, for some reason, precisely follows woke ideology.

PEN Canada never bothered to answer our queries.

Burning Books, Burning People

In his 1821 play Almansor, the German poet Heinrich Heine famously wrote that, “Those who burn books will in the end burn people.” More than a century later, on the evening of May 10, 1933, the infamous mass bonfire of “un-German” and Jewish books took place at Berlin’s Opernplatz, organized by Nazi Germany’s Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels. “You are doing the right thing in committing the evil spirit of the past to the flames at this late hour of the night,” Goebbels declared to the assembled throng. “It is a strong, great and symbolic act.” We know what Nazi Germany did next.

“Those who burn books will in the end burn people”: The prescient warning of 19th-century German playwright Heinrich Heine came to pass a century later with the mass bonfire of Jewish books in Berlin on May 10, 1933, which was followed by Nazi Germany’s mass murder of Jews beginning in 1941. (Source of photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

Bureaucrats at Peel District didn’t burn books – they buried them because that’s the “sustainable” way to destroy literature. But Heine’s warning remains acutely relevant. Driven by an extreme ideology that seeks to eradicate viewpoints it considers “evil,” nameless woke activists sought to purify the library collections to their own satisfaction, in line with the actions of universities, book publishers and so-called advocacy groups that actively seek or obligingly consent to politically-motivated limitations on the intellectual freedom of younger generations.

Well-written children’s books do not cause harm. They entertain, illuminate, enlighten and educate. And in doing so, they can (hopefully) inspire a lifelong love of reading. To encourage children to reap these many benefits requires a library with shelves sagging under the weight of books – because it is impossible to know what particular book will capture the imagination of which particular child. The real harm lies in destroying books.

Marjorie Gann is a retired elementary school teacher and children’s book author and reviewer. Her non-fiction books include Speak a Word for Freedom: Women Against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery, both co-authored with Janet Willen. Gann sits on the Advisory Board of the Aristotle Foundation.

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