By Savanah Tillberg, Staff Writer
A round table panel discussion on censorship took place Sunday at the Brodie Street Public Library as a part of Lakehead University’s Research and Innovation Week. Drs. Monica Flegel, Anna Guttman, and Rachel Warburton of Lakehead University’s Department of English along with Laura Prinselaar of the Thunder Bay Public Library and Renée Terpstra of Definitely Superior Art Gallery contributed their views on a wide array of related topics.
The panel opened up wit Dr. Monica Flegel who spoke about the importance, relevance and context of self-censorship in our everyday lives. Dr. Flegel noted the relationship between self-censorship and daily communications and how the two are interrelated. She went on to describe that participating in society often means censoring the parts of ourselves that are perhaps more in-sensitive and “mean-spirited” in order to avoid certain “social sanctions” such as people avoiding your company if “you refuse to follow the social conventions of politeness.” Dr. Flegel also spoke about the use of self-censorship when discussing topics such as beliefs, religion, politics, and ideologies and some of the possible consequences following those discussions.
In addition, Dr. Flegel spoke about free speech and self-censorship online, stating that inflammatory and offensive speech is the cultural norm in some arenas of the Internet. She closed her contribution to the panel by stating that self-censorship is “necessary but should be about respecting the dignity of others with whom we engage rather than silencing thoughts that are controversial.”
Dr. Anna Guttman followed Dr. Flegel and opened up her portion of the discussion by referring to Motion-103 – a motion designed to condemn Islamophobia and other forms of racism and discrimination. She describes how many of those opposing the motion are doing so in fear that Canada will create a blasphemy law, despite Canada already having one in s.296 of the Criminal Code. One of the last times this law was acted on was in the 1980s when a theater is Saul Saint Marie was charged with blasphemy for showing the film Monty Python Life of Brian. The blasphemy law protects religions affiliated with Christianity but do not cover other religions such as Judaism. Dr. Guttman says these laws can easily be used to target minorities and ensure the majority is protected by demanding the censorship of content that, although outside the majority norm, is perfectly legal.
Dr. Rachel Warburton spoke about censorship in relation to LGBTQ content. She referenced a queer retail store in Vancouver whose shipments of books were continually being vandalized and damaged upon arrival or held at customs. The store argued that their material was being forcefully censored by withholding it unreasonably and through acts vandalism, and that this censorship was a result of the material being queer related.
Dr. Warburton also referenced the screening of films and erotica materials, stating: “obscenity laws and censorship in practice combined allow for the targeting of non-normative, though entirely legal, sex practices.” Various examples of films, books, and art were used to demonstrate that in Canada’s history, “censorship in practice often exceeds the requirements of the law.”
Laura Prinselaar discussed the use of censorship and curating in the Thunder Bay Public Library. She discussed how the TBPL curated their collection to suit the needs of the community. She referred to several literary materials that have been removed from the library’s collection as they were deemed to be unnecessarily offensive and hurtful, such as The Travels of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff. Prinselaar also referred to materials that have been challenged by the public but have remained a part of the library’s collection, such as Sex by Madonna. Prinselaar emphasized that the libraries motives were not to censor, but rather curate a collection that fit the community of Thunder Bay and provided a diverse range of materials for citizens to access.
The final panelist was Renée Terpstra who spoke about censorship in relation to artists. Terpstra is an administrator at a local artist-run center, Definitely Superior Art Gallery. In her contribution to the discussion, she spoke about how her art collective is more concerned about “guiding ethos [and] not censoring art.” Terpstra said art that relates to the body or sexuality is more often targeted by censorship in Canada. To combat this censorship more artist-run centers that give artists the opportunity to demonstrate all of their work are being created across the country. She added that at her collective pieces are not “age graded” and when asked if the art is child-friendly she describes the parents exactly what they might find at her galleries and offers suggestions on how the pieces could be used educationally if they choose to bring their children. Terpstra’s collective encourages their artists to create new, controversial, and un-censored pieces that shown throughout the city that contradict the way people think about normality.
Only day three, and Lakehead’s Research and Innovation Week is proving to packed with interesting content. If you were unable to attend this event but are interested in opportunities available to you during R&I Week you can view a full schedule here: lakeheadu.ca/ri.