The organizer of a book club for teenage girls says she was told students from the Toronto District School Board would not attend one of her events because the featured author, attorney Marie Henein, had defended Jian Ghomeshi accused of sexual assault.
The board now says it was a misunderstanding.
A Room of Your Own Book Club invites teenage girls, many of whom come from low-income families, to read a text and then discuss it in a virtual room with the author. School leaders and teachers promote the events for their students.
Tanya Lee, who has been organizing the book club for about four years, said she was told at the end of October by the school board superintendent she’s concerned that TDSB schools would not promote this month’s event with Ms. Henein. Lee said she was told the school board’s stock department felt the lawyer would send the wrong message.
“They said ‘no’ to me directly because [Ms. Henein] defended Jian Ghomeshi and how to explain it to little girls, ”said Mrs Lee.
Ms. Henein, who became nationally prominent when she represented Mr. Ghomeshi, a former CBC television broadcaster, at his 2016 sexual assault trial, wrote Nothing but the truth: a book of remembrance.
The superintendent, Helen Fisher, also told her that the students would not attend a book club event scheduled for February with Nadia Murad, a Nobel Prize winner and activist, Ms Lee said. She said she was told, Mrs Murad’s book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic Stat, would promote Islamophobia.
After that conversation, Mrs Lee said she sent an email to Mrs Fisher with information on Islamic State from the BBC and CNN.
“This is what Islamic State means,” Mrs Lee wrote to the superintendent. “It is a terrorist organization. It has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims. The TDSB should be aware of the difference. “
The next day, Mrs. Lee said, Mrs. Fisher sent her a copy of the board’s policy of selecting fair, culturally relevant, and responsive reading material.
In response to a request for comment from The Globe and Mail, Ms. Fisher that TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird had the answer for her.
Mr. Bird said that after talking to staff, “there seems to have been a misunderstanding as the stock department does not review and approve books for book clubs.”
Mr. Bird said in an email Thursday that both books are being reviewed by board staff, as is standard practice for books distributed to students in TDSB schools, “and we hope to be able to approve them in the near future. . “
The book club gives girls a space to fall in love with reading
Meanwhile, he said the TDSB has paused to bring external speakers to its schools or promote them to students while developing a protocol on such events, which he expected would be completed within the next two weeks.
“It’s important to note that this is not about the author, who is a famous Canadian lawyer and who students could benefit from by hearing her story,” said Mr. Bird.
TDSB does not run the book club and the event takes place outside the school property. But Ms. Lee said she discusses expectations with teachers and principals. She said the board has never rejected a book or author that her book club has used before now.
Mrs Lee said the club is for girls aged 13 to 18, but she limited the events with Ms. Henein and Ms. Murad for high school age.
Ms. Lee said the book club event with Ms. Henein will continue next week with about 100 students from Owen Sound and London. Ms. Henein donated 200 books to the club. Mrs Lee said about half are in her aunt’s hall waiting for distribution to TDSB students.
In an email Thursday, Ms. Henein that the event is intended to be a conversation with the students about her book and her life experience. She said Mrs Lee informed her that the TDSB was withdrawing its support “as a result of my participation.”
“There are words for this. Misunderstandings are not one of them,” she said.
With a report from Sean Fine
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