Dufferin-Peel Catholic board to review Snow Falling on Cedars

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • February 12, 2007
snowcederTORONTO - David Guterson’s award-winning novel Snow Falling on Cedars has been pulled from school library shelves in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board after a parent complained about its sexual content.
An anonymous letter was sent to trustees from a parent whose child attends Fr. Michael Goetz Secondary School in Mississauga. The letter outlined concerns about a detailed description of a married couple’s first sexual encounter and sexual relations between two youths. 

“Normally we wouldn’t respond to an anonymous letter, but we looked at the excerpts of the book and believed it should be reviewed,” said Bruce Campbell, community relations manager with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic board. “The book has not been banned, it’s been challenged and we’re reviewing it.”

“By taking the book off the shelf it’s saying the book is guilty before proven innocent,” said Christopher Waddle, national affairs chairperson for PEN Canada, an international not-for-profit organization that lobbies for freedom of expression.

“It seems something of an overreaction to take a book off the shelf based on one person’s complaint.... The obvious concern is that if books are taken out of circulation on one complaint, lots of books could be taken out of circulation.”

The book must go through the board’s “challenged materials process,” meaning unresolved complaints about materials at the local level must be reviewed by a committee consisting of library services and religious education co-ordinators, two trustees, a parent and the superintendent of schools. A decision is expected some time in mid-February.

“The review will look at the material in the context of the entire story, not just objectionable phrases, the historical period and how that ties in,” said Campbell. 

“We’re not reviewing the merits of the novel. It’s about process and honouring the process that we’ve defined for our board,” said Marianne Mazzorato, superintendent of programs with the board. 

For a book to be selected for the curriculum, the teacher, department head and the principal decide what gets read in the classroom at their particular school.

“We do have a measure of control and responsibility to our students through what we do make available through our classroom,” said Campbell.

Snow Falling on Cedars has been used in previous years and this is the first time trustees have received complaints. It has won the PEN/Faulkner award and American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award among others.

“If (the review) causes us to reflect on the process of how books are brought into the classroom we will look at that as well,” said Mazzorato.

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