Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer and poet, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” Unfortunately, this paradigm is not universal. Concerns about Canadian literacy have been heightened this week with reports that there is a high number of adults in Canada who lack basic literacy skills. In fact, according to Daniel Munro of the Centre for Skills and PSE “research by the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education has revealed some troubling gaps between Canadians’ educational attainment and the skills we actually develop” (The Conference Board of Canada).
In a twist of irony though, Freedom to Read Week has been hugely celebrated across the country with events at many postsecondary institutions, libraries, and book fairs. Organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee and the Book and Periodical Council, Freedom to Read Week, now in its 30th year, is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to freedom of expression and intellectual freedom, guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This year, the Writers’ Union of Canada has jointly honoured scientist Eric Marshall and journalist Chris Turner with the 2014 Freedom to Read Award.
Free expression on the Internet and in literature have further been echoed with two of the Federation’s Big Thinking speakers in the headlines: Dany Laferrière, Haitain-Québecois novelist and journalist, and Ron Deibert, Director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Elected to the Académie française in December 2013, Dany Laferrière was honoured on Tuesday to have been given a residency of six months in a historical building in the centre of Paris in early 2015. Living inside the Récollets Convent, on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, he hopes to use this time to write and prepare for his induction into the Académie française in April 2015. For its part, the Citizen Lab received a boost in funding from the MacArthur Foundation, winning a prestigious $1-million grant. “The Citizen Lab, a Toronto research group that exposes cyberspying and internet censorship, was one of seven institutions in three countries to win a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. It is the first Canadian organization to win the award, which has been given annually since 2006” (CBC News). Be sure to watch Ron Deibert speak at our Big Thinking event in November 2013. His lecture addressed the current outlook for cyber-security, and what recent revelations about surveillance will mean for a free, open and secure Internet.