Ontario school board held 'flame purification' ceremony to remove books offensive to 'Aboriginal knowledge keepers'

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think we’ve discovered a school board even worse than the one in San Francisco. A school board for French-speaking Catholic schools in Ontario, Canada held a “flame purification” ceremony to get rid of books deemed offensive by Aboriginal knowledge keepers. If that sounds a lot like book burning that’s because it’s book burning:

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…

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.”

Radio Canada reports the original plan was to burn some books at each school. The board also considered burning all 4,700 books it removed before deciding that might lead to some pushback from parents and teachers. So they settled for the one symbolic burning and making a video about it.

One of the supporters of the decision to remove and burn the books was Suzy Kies who is described as an “Indigenous knowledge keeper.” She told Radio Canada, “People panic about burning books, but we’re talking about millions of books that have negative images of indigenous people, that perpetuate stereotypes, that are really damaging and dangerous.”

The removed books included comic books and children’s books like Asterix and TinTin. Some of the authors of the books being removed were stunned by the decision:

Books that featured crafts described as cultural appropriation were also withdrawn. A book was considered a lack of respect for the culture because it offered an activity called eat, write, dress like the Indians.

Quebec comic book author Marcel Levasseur is devastated when we learn that his character Laflèche has been withdrawn from school libraries. He feels a lot of sadness, a lot of incomprehension.

In 2011, the book was a finalist for the Tamarac Prize, awarded by the Ontario Library Association. “In 10 years, I have gone from almost an award winner to a banned author.”…

“It’s incredible. What right do they have to do such a thing? It’s completely ridiculous,” denounces Sylvie Brien, whose children’s novel The Indian College Affair has been withdrawn. The school board does not specify the reason for this withdrawal.

This is a story that takes place in 1920 with fictional characters and places. In the story, a teenage girl defends an Aboriginal man wrongly accused of causing a fire.

Given that there’s a national election in Canada in two weeks, the issue of the burned books has drawn responses from each of the party leaders. Justin Trudeau said he wouldn’t have done this himself but didn’t want to tell anyone else what to do. You could say he’s pro-choice on book burning:

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.

The leader of the conservative party, Erin O’Toole, condemned it:

As did the leader of Bloc Quebecois who said, “we don’t burn books.” That seems obvious to me but I guess not to everyone these days. Barron’s reported a few hours ago that because of a public backlash the school board has suspended the further removal of offensive books.