President’s Message

On Thursday September 5, 2013, at our annual general meeting, members elected Philip Slayton as the new president of PEN Canada. This is his monthly message which appears in our newsletter.

Philip Slayton

Philip Slayton

In recent years PEN Canada has joined with the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) and PEN International to study and report on freedom of expression in countries where that freedom seems imperiled. In 2011, we released Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico’s Journalists; this was followed by a mission to Mexico led by the president of PEN International, John Ralston Saul, with Adrienne Clarkson representing PEN Canada. In January of this year, we published our Honduras report, Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, which attracted considerable interest from the international media. The 93-page Honduras report examines the surge in violence directed against journalists following the ouster of President José Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Among its key findings are that violence against Honduran journalists remains high, with almost complete impunity for perpetrators, and that threats and attacks on journalists are rarely investigated and hardly ever punished.

Now PEN Canada and IHRP are moving on to India. As I write this, PEN Canada’s Executive Director, Tasleem Thawar, is in India conducting interviews, as our study of that country’s freedom of expression begins. PEN Canada has close ties with India; at the Reykjavik Congress in September 2013, we were delighted to sponsor the creation of PEN Delhi.

While Tasleem has been in India, Penguin Books India withdrew and pulped remaining copies of a scholarly work on Hinduism, published five years ago, as a result of a lawsuit brought by Dinanath Batra, a right-wing Hindu nationalist who described the book as “dirty.” Penguin was apparently concerned that it might run afoul of provisions of the Indian penal code, which, in Penguin’s opinion, make it difficult to uphold freedom of expression. The New York Times reported that Penguin’s concession had put a spring in the 84-year old Mr. Batra’s step: “He dreams of creating a panel to review textbooks for the first 12 grades of India’s government schools. Asked how many he would like to replace, he waved a hand: All of them. ‘Alternate books will come out,” he said. ‘We shall give them guidelines.’”

PEN Canada’s country studies are an important part of what we do. It seems our study of India will be timely.

Philip Slayton
President, PEN Canada

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