For freedom - and also cars

For freedom - and also cars
Photo by Kimberly Farmer / Unsplash

It’s been another incredibly busy week with more projects than hours available to work on them so the piece I wanted to write on Wednesday is the second part of this article and — well, why not. We’re a species that used to be able to handle two very different movies in a row, surely we can do this.

In my Ottawa Citizen column I tackle Freedom to Read Week. The Ottawa Public Library released its annual report, which showed requests to ban (or, in one case, move from teen to adult collection) six books and one DVS.

Seven titles, and in all seven cases, the OPL said thanks, but no thanks. My question was, how is this number compared to the average year in Ottawa, and are things worsening like everywhere mini-trumps are currently puffing their chests?

Turns out that by and large, the OPL gets about half a dozen requests a year to ban books (or move them to the adult collection from the teen one). In 2022 there were 17 such requests, and two titles that got removed. From the report:

Two (2) requests (12%) resulted in the item being removed from the collection: when reviewed by staff, these items were flagged for withdrawal for reasons including age of the material, insignificant research or cultural value, poor condition, and / or low usage.

Curating items is alright. But not banning things because someone objects for political, religious or cultural reasons. In this climate, you'll forgive me for being antsy. But hell. We’re not going to be banning, burning or otherwise restrict books in my town if I have anything to say about it. Fortunately the OPL is hard at work guarding our right to read what we want.

In Montreal the Jewish Public Library got in the news, and not in a good way, for banning works by Quebec author Élise Gravel … because of posts she made criticizing the Israeli government for its actions in Gaza. And everyone in the province went, huh, there’s a Jewish Public Library in Montreal?

Removing her books led to a unanimous motion in her support in the Quebec National Assembly (also in support of another Quebec author whose book famously got blowtorched by a stupendously idiotic American politician) and quite the generalized public uproar, so much so that the JPL felt compelled to pedal this back.

"The JPL supports, defends, and promotes equitable access to the widest range of information, and resists calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to the written word," it said in a statement.

Some people started debating whether or not Gravel’s online statements amounted to antisemitism and frankly I’m having trouble seeing it but I don’t know Gravel personally and have no way of knowing what’s in her heart and mind. What I do know is this: You are perfectly free in your private life to support or boycott artists, politicians and businesses for any reason that’s important to you. Public institutions may not.

Also? Censorship is a tool of the weak and banning books is, arguably, the stupidest thing anyone can do. If you have issues with something published somewhere, you’re free to discuss it with anyone willing to tolerate your tirade. Nobody has the right to ban anyone from accessing the public square, especially not when the public purse finances it. Read my column.

silver mercedes benz g 63
Photo by Juan Rojas / Unsplash

Cars. Man, do we love ‘em.

When Steven Guilbeault, the federal minister of the environment and climate change, suggested there would no longer be federal funds going towards building new provincial roads, but that of course maintaining existing provincial roads was still going to be something the feds would spend money on even though it’s an area of provincial jurisdiction, all hell broke loose.

Well, mostly conservative politicians.

Pierre Poilievre said Guilbeault “won’t be happy until we’re living back in mud huts.” Which is about as relevant to the discussion as me saying Poilievre won’t be happy until we all part our brylcreemed hair uncannily cleanly and wayyyy too low for comfort.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, not known for his delicate rhetorical skills, piled on: “Guilbeault wants us all to walk everywhere. The Trudeau government gets more out of touch with reality every day,” he erupted on Twitter. Because of course not financing new roads means nobody can drive nowhere. Impeccable logic.

And in any case, Steven Guilbeaut would probably prefer everyone biked as he often does (yes, even in winter). But that’s neither here nor there. Danielle Smith in Alberta asked whether he understood that “most Canadians don’t live in downtown Montreal” to which the answer, I am sure, is likely on the positive side. There’s a lot of Canada in this country. Much of it isn’t located on that one beautiful if slightly chaotic Quebec island.

“Most of us can’t just head out the door in the snow and rain and just walk 10km to work each day,” Smith added, in case we were tempted to give the clueless rube trophy to Scott Moe.

I guess nobody in these conservative vicious circles has heard of induced demand. Add it to the impressive pile of basic scientific facts they don't know and/or choose to ignore.

The noise was too loud for nervous nellies among the Liberal caucus and the next day Guilbeault was forced to engage in what must have been painful sophism:

"Of course we're funding roads, we have programs to fund roads, but we have said, and maybe I should have been more specific in the past, is that we don't have funds for large projects like the Troisième lien," Guilbeault said, referencing the proposed third connection point between Quebec City and Lévis, Que.


Ontario Premier and man-about-car Doug Ford pronounced himself "gobsmacked" (opinions vary on whether he knows what the word means) as his decidedly vehicle-addicted administration announced that on top of being free, car registration would no longer expire, saving car owners the odious trauma of remembering, once every other year, to fill out an online form to renew their henceforth sticker-less plates.

I am currently considering my options. What do you think I should do with all this newly freed-up time?

Oh, Ontario also announced that there would not be any more toll roads in the province that already only has one and no current plans to add any more. If that's not a brilliant example of performative vice-signalling, it'll do until something worse comes along.

silver tabby cat sleeping on white blanket
Enjoy sleeping in on Monday, Ontario!

Happy long family day long weekend to all my Ontario readers.