book burning ontario

Here's what you need to know about the book burning in Ontario

A group of schools in Ontario is facing some serious backlash this week following news that they held a book burning ceremony in which thousands of texts were destroyed.

The Conseil scolaire catholique Providence is in charge of nearly 10,000 students across 30 schools in a district in the southwest of the province, and decided to vet its libraries for texts that it considered to have "outdated and inappropriate content" that is racist and discriminatory against Indigenous people and/or culturally appropriative.

(Six Dr. Seuss books are famously now out of publication for similar reasons, which critics called a book burning of sorts, though no actual books were burned.)

In total, approximately 4,700 individual books were burnt in a "flame purification" event, the ashes then used to fertilize a tree in a symbolic act of reconciliation.

Titles included fictional stories such as Tintin in America (which has been called out before for its racist stereotypes) and Asterix and the Indians, as well as biography and history books, as selected with the help of Aboriginal knowledge keepers and elders.

Though the event took place back in 2019, it is only now coming to light, stoking controversy and rebuke from writers, politicians, everyday residents and more.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on the topic that he "would never agree to the burning of books," and that it's not up to non-Indigenous Canadians to determine how reconciliation should take place.

PC Leader Erin O'Tolle and Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet both likewise condemned book burning, regardless of the intention behind it.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was less staunch, saying that he has "seen negative images, cartoons, and presentation that do not respect the dignity of Indigenous communities. So I think we really need to change our approach to teaching our children."

The burning of books has never been a celebrated or accepted way to attempt to destroy the thoughts and ideas held within them, as problematic as those thoughts and ideas may be.

Social media is thus abuzz with residents criticizing the board and their actions — even calling them scary — with many saying that harmfully anachronistic content should be put into context and learned from, rather than eliminated.

People are harkening back to pertinent quotes like "Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people" from German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine and "He who destroys a good book kills reason itself" from English poet John Milton.

Others are recalling the burning of "un-German" books by the Nazis during the Holocaust, the ancient Roman burning of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and the burning of Harry Potter and other books about magic by church groups in the U.S. in the early 2000s.

"Its destruction surprises me and seems excessive," author Andre Noel said on Twitter of the burning of his book, Trafic chez les Hurons, during the ceremeony.

Though he stated that he feels the historical facts in his book deserve to be noted by children and that the use of fire to withdraw certain books shows a "deplorable lack of judgement," he also said that he doesn't want the controversy of this event to distract from "the real scandal... the exploitation of indigenous lands and the oppression of indigenous peoples by Europeans and their descendants."

He continued on the platform: "The destruction of books in Ontario is worth a debate, but that it does not make us put aside other debates and other more important scandals and which should mobilize us urgently."

A representative for the board told the National Post that they now
"regret that we did not intervene to ensure a more appropriate plan for the commemorative ceremony and that it was offensive to some members of the community," adding that "we sincerely regret the negative impact of this initiative intended as a gesture of reconciliation."

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