A two-year old book burning in Canada

September 8, 2021 • 1:00 pm

In a comment on the Boghossian resignation post, reader Mike called this article to our attention as an example of Peak Wokeness. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Canada, which has turned out to be the epicenter of North American Wokeness, but Americans, being parochial, don’t know as much as they should about Canada. Usually what we find out is good stuff, but not in this case.

(Here’s a theory which is mine: Canada may be more susceptible to wokeness because of the citizens’ vaunted—and genuine—politeness. They are perhaps more likely to defer to the demands of those who are loud and persistent.)

Granted, this book-burning event took place in 2019, and the burners—”an Ontario francophone school board” (a SCHOOL BOARD!!!)—admitted it erred, but the news, as you see from the National Post article below, just came out. It’s pretty dire, for book-burning really does conjure up attempts at censorship, more so than a bunch of publishing employees protesting their company’s publishing a book they don’t like. It even conjures up Nazi book burnings, which were so numerous that the practice has its own article on Wikipedia.

It was all motivated in an attempt to reconcile the descendants of “settlers” with the Indigenous People (First People) of Canada. Representatives of the First People gave advice on the titles to be burned, supposedly for “educational purposes”—the education apparently being which books are offensive. From the article:

A book burning held by an Ontario francophone school board as an act of reconciliation with Indigenous people has received sharp condemnation from Canadian political leaders and the board itself now says it regrets its symbolic gesture.

The “flame purification” ceremony, first reported by Radio Canada, was held in 2019 by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence, which oversees elementary and secondary schools in southwestern Ontario. Some 30 books, the national broadcaster reported, were burned for “educational purposes” and then the ashes were used as fertilizer to plant a tree.

“We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security,” says a video prepared for students about the book burning, Radio Canada reported.In total, more than 4,700 books were removed from library shelves at 30 schools across the school board, and they have since been destroyed or are in the process of being recycled, Radio Canada reported.

Lyne Cossette, the board’s spokesperson, told National Post that the board formed a committee and “many Aboriginal knowledge keepers and elders participated and were consulted at various stages, from the conceptualization to the evaluation of the books, to the tree planting initiative.”

“Symbolically, some books were used as fertilizer,” Cossette wrote in an email.

Some of the books that were burned, and granted, many of them did have racist, bigoted, or offended images. But you’re not supposed to destroy the books, but rather counter them with speech or other books! Even Mein Kampf is still in print. Here’s what was seen as offensive:

A 165-page school board document includes analysis of all the books removed from shelves, Radio Canada reported.

Among them are classic titles, such as Tintin in America, which was withdrawn for its “negative portrayal of indigenous peoples and offending Aboriginal representation in the drawings.”

Also removed were books that allegedly contain cultural appropriation, as well as outdated history books, such as two biographies of Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who mapped the St. Lawrence, and another of explorer Étienne Brûlé.

I’m not sure what kind of cultural appropriation they’re talking about, but perhaps readers can enlighten me.

Cossette did apologize, but not really—it’s an apology of the form “we are sorry that some people were hurt by our book burning”:

“We 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. We sincerely regret the negative impact of this initiative intended as a gesture of reconciliation,” Cossette wrote. When are people going to apologize properly?: “We weren’t thinking properly and we did something wrong. It won’t happen again.”

And Justin Trudeau made a mealymouthed statement designed to placate everyone:

Asked about the book burning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it’s not up to non-Indigenous people “to tell Indigenous people how they should feel or act to advance reconciliation.”

“On a personal level, I would never agree to the burning of books,” Trudeau said.

Actually, it’s perfectly fine for non-indigenous people to tell indigenous people that they’re making a tactical and political mistake, and I suppose that’s telling them in some sense “how to feel.” That is, you (and right now I) am saying, “You shouldn’t feel that burning books is a good way to reconcile with non-indigenous people, and you should also realize that book-burning never works and is counter to liberal, humanistic principles.”

Well, this is all done and dusted, as the Brits say, but I’d like to hear some Canadians compare their national Wokeness with that of the United States.

***************

UPDATE: From Anne-Marie in Canada, who says, “From Serge Chapleau, la caricature of the day about the book-burning in Ontario.”

23 thoughts on “A two-year old book burning in Canada

  1. Professor Peter Boghossian finally leaving Portland State after incessant hounding, and the Ontario school board’s revival of the fine old custom of book burning, are obviously straws in the wind. We are resurrecting the culture of medieval times, which will surely please antiquarians. Let me suggest a few more steps we could expect in this delightful cultural revival.

    (1) The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (also known as the Holy Office). Established by Pope Paul III in 1542, this body’s charge was: “to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines.” So, it was something like an office of Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, except that it had the authority to subject defendants to torture. Why not revive this custom for D/E/I offices?

    (2) The Ducking Stool. Defendants suspected of invisible implicit racism or sexism will be strapped into a chair and lowered into a river. If the suspect survives, this is evidence of guilt; if the suspect drowns, this is evidence of innocence, and the charges are deleted from Twitter.

    (3) The Pillory. Those found guilty of heresy, like Peter Boghossian and perhaps even our host, will be chained to a wooden scaffold in the university commons, so that passing students can subject them to hooting, jeers, and the threat of being unfriended on Facebook.

  2. … Americans, being parochial, don’t know as much as they should about Canada.

    They got good muskellunge fishin’ up there — you hook one of those, boy, oh, boy, you’re in for a fight, I’ll tell ya, eh? Is there somethin’ else we Yanks need to know about Canada? 🙂

    Oh, yeah, you can score deuces over the counter in Windsor, too. That’s another crucial Canadian fact I picked up on a little later coming of age across the lake.

    I kid my Canadian friends!

    1. Ken, I recited the part about muskies out loud to myself, but I don’t hear Canuck. All I can hear is Frances McDormand doing her Minnesota twang. Maybe it’s the fish – I caught pike and lake trout as a kid, no muskies.

      IDK about comparative wokeness here versus there since I haven’t lived in the US for a long time. The CBC is as woke as NPR or worse (The new CBC editorial stance seems to be, “All racism, all the time”). But our online newspapers and magazines seem to be less so (HuffPo Canada closed a couple years ago). The wokest of our universities don’t come close to Evergreen State or PSU, and we don’t have anything remotely like the Brown or Yale or the other private Ivies with their gigantic endowments and bloated DEI bureaucracies. But our big public universities seem more woke than the comparable US land-grant universities, maybe because the latter have more business donors with more conservative politics? Hard to say.

  3. It seems that we are entering new dark ages in the U.S., but most everywhere else in the world seems worse. Where would I want to go if I were 70 years younger?

  4. The Woke religion has become endemic in Canada, spreading from universities to other institutions, extended and expanded by an ever-growing cadre of DEI apparatchiks.it focuses far more than the US on what we call First Nations,and, indeed, our record there is disgraceful and needs redress, other than the performative land acknowledgements that seem de rigeur at all events. But woke Canadians have taken the US history of slavery as our own. Though anti-Black racism certainly exists in Canada, the courts in Upper Canada (Ontario) effectively abolished slavery in 1793, becoming among the first jurisdictions to do so. Lower Canada and Nova Scotia soon followed, and in 1833, the British Empire officially abolished slavery. For many years, Canada was a haven … not a perfect haven, but a haven nonetheless, for Blacks fleeing slavery and runaway slave laws. So it irks me mightily when ignorant-of-history people insist that there’s no difference between Canada and the US in this respect.
    But when it comes to gender ideology and its sidebars, or tearing down statues and renaming things,we’re all Portland now.

    1. Some enactments against slavery occurred even earlier than those in Upper Canada. Venice banned the slave trade in 960 under Doge Pietro IV Candiano. King Louis X decreed the abolition of slavery in France in 1315.
      Slavery was officially abolished in Sweden in 1335 and in Poland in 1347.
      Of course, none of these decrees mentioned Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, so they presumably don’t count.

  5. As a dual-citizen Yankee-Canuck, I wouldn’t say we’re the epicenter (centre) of wokeness up here, though we have had some egregious examples thereof recently. I do think we’re generally a lot less racist up here, but then I’ve never lived in the “Mid-west” of the US or Canada. And one great feature of Canada is that federal election season is only ONE MONTH LONG up here, instead of 4 years. I will vote here for the first 10 days from now.

  6. Mulching old, outdated books to be used as compost seems fine to me. In terms of information preservation, I can see the usefulness of removing just plain wrong history or science books from the library.* Yes historians of the field will want to keep some copies to understand what sort of ideas were published in what eras, that’s fine too. But it seems reasonable to say that you don’t want kids going to the library and checking out a book that tells them how good American slaves had it and how grateful they should be for the institution of slavery.

    The symbolism of burning them? Not good.

    And at no point should we be letting social interest groups be the sole director of what books to get rid of. That’s a matter for the professionals in the field. You want to know what history books kids ought not be learning from, ask the historians. Not the subjects of the history.

    *But note, neither “old” nor “unpopular” necessarily equals “wrong”

  7. Oh now this is so wrong and counter-productive and bone headed on SO MANY LEVELS!
    The fact it was in Canada – for reasons I can’t explain – makes it hurt more. (And I’m not even Canadian, it is like when somebody you really admire does something of epic stupidity.)

    D.A.
    NYC

  8. I mean: they worked with first nations folks to remove 4,700 books from the library system. This isn’t anything new; after all, if you want to get new books, you need to make shelf space. Rather than recycling or otherwise destroying those books, they decided to burn less than 1% of them in a ceremony that turned them into fertilizer. And nota bene, they took those books out of circulation, not out of print.

    I don’t see an awful lot of similarity to Nazi book burnings.

    1. They needed shelf space? That’s the reason you think they did this? Where do they say that? Or are you just making this up? And why, in that case, did they plant a ‘tree of reconciliation’ — to reconcile people to shelf space? And why didn’t they also burn uninteresting books that were just not being read any longer or that had too many copies?

      “They worked with first nations folks to remove 4,700 books from the library system. This isn’t anything new.”

      Really? It’s been long-standing practice in Canadian schools to invite members of particular ethnic groups to decide which books should be removed from libraries and destroyed? How interesting that I never heard about that. Source, please?

  9. “you should also realize that book-burning never works and is counter to liberal, humanistic principles.”

    Well here’s your problem, assuming pre-contact indigenous culture is centered on something analogous to liberal, humanistic principles. Dictatorship by Hereditary Chiefs is anything but liberal.

  10. “Canada may be more susceptible to wokeness because of the citizens’ vaunted—and genuine—politeness.” Those I met seemed so reasonable,though.

    ‘The “flame purification” ceremony, first reported by Radio Canada, was held in 2019 by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence’ : Ah, Catholics. It all makes sense.

    “Also removed were books that allegedly contain cultural appropriation, as well as outdated history books, such as two biographies of Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who mapped the St. Lawrence, and another of explorer Étienne Brûlé.” : Yes, good idea to erase the francophone’s hitory and make them cultural orphans.

    “The Woke religion has become endemic in Canada” : this is terrifying (no irony). It used to be such a nice country.

    “King Louis X decreed the abolition of slavery in France in 1315.” That didn’t last. The last time it was abolished was in 1848.

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