This is big

Carolyn Burjoski is a Canadian teacher who spoke up after discovering the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) was culling books deemed “harmful” from 121 WRDSB libraries, as well as from teachers’ personal collections.

In 2021, the board’s co-ordinating superintendent of human resources and equity services, Graham Shantz, explained:

“As our consciousness around equity, on oppression work and anti-racist work has grown, we recognize some of the texts and collections that we have are not appropriate at this point.

We will be doing a review of each of our library collections at each of our schools over the next few years and removing any of those texts that can be harmful to either staff or students.”

At the time, Shantz told school board trustees that a “framework” had already been developed to review the content of school libraries, but when pressed by media, he declined to share the details of said “framework.”

The plan was, apparently, to begin removing books with no explanation as to why.

One school board trustee, Cindy Watson, told the National Post:

“The concern, from what I’ve been hearing, is the books will just go away and no one will ever know.

They don’t know what the framework is. I don’t know what that framework is. And I don’t know what the process is, and I don’t know if it will include students, or parents or community members, or whether there will be any consultation.”

At the same time the WRDSB was planning to cull “inappropriate” books, new titles were being added to elementary school libraries aimed at “representing the LGBTQ2S+ community” — again, without consultation with teachers, parents, or community members.

Burjoski had been an elementary school teacher with the WRDSB in Ontario for 20 years when she requested a delegation at the January 17, 2022 Board of Trustees meeting to speak about her concerns.

Allotted 10 minutes to speak, Burjoski pointed out that one of the criteria offered to determine which books might be removed was “misleading” content, adding, “a case could be made that some of your new ‘diverse material’ are indeed misleading.” While Burjoski allows that some of these new titles may be beneficial in terms of showing “diverse families” and a “variety of ethnicities,” she also expresses concern that some of the resources now offered in the elementary school libraries are inappropriate for young children.

She references two books offered to K-6 students — one called Rick, wherein a boy named “Rick” announces an “asexual” identity because he doesn’t think about “naked girls.” In the meeting, Burjoski suggests “Rick” might not think about “naked girls” because he is a child, not because he is “asexual”:

“What message does this book send to young girls who might be in grade three [or] four girls. They are children. Let them grow up in their own time and stop pressuring them to be sexual so soon.”

But it is when she references a book called The Other Boy, by MG Hennessey, which includes a female character named “Shane,” who is female but identifying as “male,” that Burjoski is cut off and ejected from the meeting. The book, she explained, “makes it seem simple or even cool to take puberty blockers or opposite sex hormones.” It is at this point that she is interrupted by board chair Scott Piatkowski, who expresses concern that her “content may be problematic,” warning, “I’m not sure where you’re headed, but I would caution you not to say anything that would violate the human rights code.” As Burjoski continues, explaining that “Shane” may not understand the future consequences of transitioning, including infertility, Piatkowski stops her again, citing the Ontario Human Rights Code and its inclusion of “gender identity and gender expression” as reason to end Burjoski’s presentation.

The day after the meeting, Burjoski was ordered to stay home from school and barred from speaking to her colleagues and students. The Board then filed a formal complaint against her and began a disciplinary investigation. As her story hit the media, Burjoski was silenced while the board chair, trustees, and others maintained that what she said was “harmful,” “hateful,” and violated the Human Rights Code. The WRDSB then removed the meeting video from its website.

Burjoski filed a defamation claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in April 2022, to which the Board responded by filing an Anti-SLAPP motion, rather hilariously attempting to claim Burjoski was suppressing their free speech with her case.

Luckily, the judge also saw this as nonsense. At an Ontario Superior Court hearing on Wednesday, Justice James Ramsay dismissed the Anti-SLAPP motion, stating Burjoski’s defamation claim in fact has “substantial merit.”

The ruling is significant. Not only does Justice Ramsey determine that the board’s comments accusing Burjoski of breaching the Human Rights Code and engaging in hate speech were defamatory, but that the Human Rights Code does not prohibit public discussion of issues related to transgenderism.

Some of you may recall that, earlier this year, the Cowichan Community Centre cancelled our October 4 booking for an event titled, “Inclusivity, Gender Identity, and Women’s Rights,” citing the BC Human Rights Code. An email from the centre’s Administrative and Facility Booking Coordinator sent on October 2nd explains:

“As a public facility we are required to follow policy under the BC Human Rights Code. Given the likelihood that the purpose of this event is to promote, or would have the effect of promoting discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person on the basis of sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor, it is determined this rental must be cancelled.”

As I wrote at the time, the accusation was provably untrue, based on video recordings of previous events which contained no “hate speech.” But we were also, essentially, being accused of thoughtcrime.

Of course the Human Rights Code does not prohibit discussions of women’s rights and how gender identity legislation might impact women and children. To my mind, the email was libelous in its implication that my speech either constituted “hate speech” or aimed to “discriminate against a person or group of people because of characteristics including race, place of origin, religion, disability, sex and gender identity.”

The judgement in favour of Burjoski is impressive and commendable. Justice Ramsey not only admonishes the chairman of the board, saying Piatkowski “acted with malice or at least with a reckless disregard for the truth” and “made an embarrassingly erroneous and arbitrary decision to silence a legitimate expression of opinion,” but concludes by saying:

“I find it regrettable that the defendant who is trying to shut down debate is an arm of the government…. What happened here should not happen in a democratic society.”


I hope the Cowichan Community Centre and other public and private entities take note of this ruling. Canada is still a democracy, whether some like it or not, and we will not be bullied into silence by the oppressive or the cowardly. We will not accept libel as a defense for censorship. We do not agree that expressing legitimate concerns about the rights and wellbeing of women and children constitutes “hate.” I am thrilled that some rational Canadians remain, and look forward to seeing more and more stand up.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.