Heather Conn Blogs

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Code of conduct for federal librarians: Are book-burning parties next?

Prime minister Stephen Harper’s recent decision to muzzle public statements and activities of federal librarians and archivists is indeed a chilling echo of Orwell’s 1984. Controlling freedom of expression is one of the first dictates of a totalitarian regime. For Canada, this is the latest of Harper’s attempts to quash anyone or anything that challenges the actions of his government, whether it’s environmentalists slamming the tar sands or scientists reinforcing the truth of climate change.



I was appalled to read about the new “code of conduct” for Canada’s federal librarians, which lists “teaching, speaking at conferences, and other personal engagements,” as high-risk behaviours that might conflict with an employee’s “duty of loyalty” to the government. Heaven forbid that a well-educated, informed citizen might exercise his or her fundamental right and speak out against the prime minister and/or his policies!


Stay back in your dark stacks, you pesky librarians and archivists. How dare you exercise free speech and provide information that makes people think—and question authority.


Within Canada’s democratic process and heritage, Harper’s latest rule is a cringing, cowardly act. Can he control the creative spirit of those who choose to think and act as free individuals? No. Will he continue to try? Yes. Any politician, secure in his or her sense of self and position, invites public discourse as an open avenue of shared ideas, new discoveries, and rich platform for changing or expanding viewpoints. As they say, this is what democracy looks like.


This latest mandate continues Harper’s similar trajectory of trying to silence federally paid scientists who haven spoken out against climate change and verified its existence with research data. They, too, cannot speak to reporters or make announcements on their own volition.


Not surprisingly, the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), to which I belong, and other organizations, such as the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Library Association, have denounced the recent changes to the role of employees at Library and Archives Canada.


“We strongly urge Library and Archives Canada to reconsider and rewrite their code,” TWUC chair Merilyn Simonds said in the organization’s March 20 press release. “This kind of chill on free expression reflects very poorly on Canada, and is surely outside the mainstream of Canadian opinion. Canada has a proud history of vigorous public debate. Our national archives should celebrate that tradition, not repress it.”


Librarians and archivists are the lifeblood of writers and a free nation. They protect and make available the gamut of knowledge to those people, like me, who seek to learn, grow, teach, and share information with others. Totalitarian governments are the ones that try to make history disappear, rewriting it in ways that extol their ideology. What’s next for Canada —federally sanctioned book-burning parties in front of the Parliament buildings?


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March 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (2)