The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has canceled events by “A Room of Your Own” book club. The board has withdrawn support for the two events hosted by the book club, citing different reasons. The two events were supposed to be attended by two influential contemporary authors, Marie Henein and Nadia Murad.
In September 2018, TDSB removed more than 4,700 books from 30 schools to reconcile with indigenous people. TDSB burned 30 books and used their ashes as fertilizers and called it “flame purification.” The move proved to be very controversial.
Less than three months after the book purge, TDSB is causing another uproar. The board has decided to cancel Nadia Murad’s book club event scheduled in February 2022. According to TDSB, Murad’s book The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State could offend some Muslim students.
The 28-year old Nadia Murad is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a human rights activist. She was captured by ISIS and was held for three months. TDSB explained that Murad’s book, which recounts her experience as a sex slave when ISIS captured her at age 19, could promote “Islamophobia.”
Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for TDSB, said there is a misunderstanding regarding the review and approval of the books that the book club will read. “The ‘fairness’ department does not review and approve books for book clubs,” Bird said.
Bird added that board members examined two books as part of their process to approve the circulation of any books. “We hope to be in a position to approve in the near future,” he added.
The book club, which author Tanya Lee started in 2017, holds reading sessions with girls between 13 and 18 years old from different secondary schools. The club also invites the authors of the books, and the participants can discuss the book with the author.
Helen Fisher, board superintendent, informed Lee via phone in October that the student won’t be participating in Marie Henein’s book reading event, fearing that “the lawyer would send the wrong message.” Fisher then told Lee that the 2022 event would not be supported as well.
Lee sent an email to Fisher explaining what the Islamic State means and information from the BBC and CNN. Lee said that ISIS is a terrorist organization and has nothing to do with ordinary Muslim citizens. “The TDSB should be aware of the difference,” Lee added.
The board first canceled the October 2021 event for Marie Henein’s Nothing But the Truth: A Memoir. It board called the book “problematic” as it leans towards defending Jian Ghomeshi, a former radio show host, against sexual assault charges in 2014.
Many news media professionals were quick to criticize TDSB over the negligent decisions.
Naomi Buck, a Toronto-based writer, accuses TDSB of espousing anti-learning and anti-curious attitude. “An attitude that has no place in education,” Buck said.
Rex Murphy, a commentator for the National Post, slams the equity department of TDSB, saying that they contradict the very idea they are trying to implement. Murphy calls the cancellation of Heinen’s event “deeply awkward.” “The case of Nadia Murad combines determined ignorance and profound insult,” Murphy added.