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‘Tintin in America’ and ‘The Menu’ among contested titles at Ottawa Public Library last year

A controversial edition of the Tintin comic series and a comedy-horror film were among the seven titles challenged in the Ottawa Public Library’s collection last year.

An annual report set to be presented to the Ottawa Public Library Board meeting on Tuesday said the titles consisted of six print books and one DVD. Of the seven that received reconsideration requests by members of the public, none were ultimately removed from the library’s collection.

The titles were challenged for a variety of reasons, including racism, age-inappropriate content, promoting hatred, as well as violent, inaccurate and objectionable content. The report lists each item in the collection that was challenged, including details such as type of collection, format, and audience.

Among the contested titles was the 1949 comic book Tintin in America by Belgian author Hergé. The book has received controversy for its negative portrayal of Indigenous people, including imagery on its front cover of Tintin tied to a pole as a chief clad in Buckskin angrily wielding an axe. Similar imagery is repeated throughout the book.

The request for reconsideration listed racism, violence and ‘inappropriate for age’ as the reason for removing the book, but OPL decided to retain it.

The only film on the list was comedy-horror film The Menu, starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy. The movie features a number of violent scenes, including blood, gore and death. The film was contested for ‘objectionable content.’

One Russian-language book written by pro-Kremlin pundit Yevgeny Satanovsky also received a request for removal for ‘promoting hatred.’

List of contested books at the Ottawa Public Library in 2023 (Ottawa Public Library)The library says it upholds a high standard for removing or moving items from a teen or children’s section to an adult section. The library system, which operates 33 branches in Ottawa, approved its Intellectual Freedom Position in June 2022, outlining its core value of supporting intellectual freedom.

“Ottawa Public Library (OPL) is committed to upholding the core tenet of intellectual freedom. The Library’s role is to act as a curator of information and a champion of information literacy,” OPL says on its website.

“Its services are governed by applicable legislation, as well as its vision, mission, and values. OPL provides access to, but does not endorse, multiple viewpoints via its services (including collections, programs, displays, meeting room rentals, and Internet access).”

Libraries and publishers have long objected to book-banning, saying the practice violates freedom of expression. Books with racial and/or LGBTQ+ themes are the most frequent targets of book-banning.

The annual Freedom to Read week begins next week, encouraging Canadians to “think about and reaffirm their rights to intellectual freedom,” according to literary publisher Random House.

Among some of the most contested books in Canada are Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

The OPL report finds the number of challenges was lower than 2022, when OPL says it received 17 challenges to titles in its collection. 2023 was more in line with the average number of reconsideration requests the library receives, which is approximately 6 per year.

All the requests for reconsideration of an item in the library is made by members of the public who object to an item or items in the collection. The public is asked to either speak with employees to express their concerns or fill out a “request for reconsideration of library material” form.

In addition to challenges to specific books, OPL says they received two general challenges to the library system were received. Chief Librarian Sonia Bebbington says she received an emailed letter by a client, who was concerned about children who might be exposed to sexual references or sexual activity.

The letter asked OPL to remove 17 books mentioned in an online list, but did not submit a request for reconsideration request.

OPL says it regularly submits challenged titles to the Canadian Federation of Libraries Association’s Intellectual Freedom Challenges Survey which provides a snapshot of the nature and outcome of challenges across Canada.

The library also submits all challenged titles to the Centre for Free Expression (CFE) Library Challenges Database at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Here is the list of books that received requests for reconsideration last year:

  • Tintin in America by Herge (1945)
  • Le Stégosaure by Anna Obiols (2012)
  • Conscious Parenting by Gabriel Cousens (2015)
  • The Beast or the Lamb by Derek Prince (2022)
  • The Menu (film) directed by Mark Mylod (2023)
  • Love on the other side by Nagabe (2020)
  • Oskolki Myslei by Yevgeny Satanovsky (2020)

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