Photo of a book sitting on top of a soft, blanket-like surface. The book is open to page 220-221 and the text is in German. On top of the book, across the spine, is a black rectangle with the words (in English) "REDACTED"


On Nov. 10, 2023, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) enacted an informal policy to restrict access to four books with 2SLGBTQ+ themes. These books were on the Forest of Reading shortlist for children and young adults.  

“The books were to be hidden from students. We are saying to the students that their identity must be hidden, their sibling’s identity, their parents’, and their neighbors’ identity is not allowed to be with the other folks. And so that happened, sort of for over [a] year,” Kevin White, former library technician with the WCDSB, said. 

The Forest of Reading (FoR) program by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) and is Canada’s largest recreational reading program. The shadow ban has since been lifted as of the publishing of this article, but the ban is still felt by the community.  

The banned books included Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan, The Mystery of the Painted Fan by Linda Trinh, Princess Pru and the Ogre on the Hill by Maureen Fergus and June Saves the World by Ronnie Riley are all a part of the Forest of Reading program. When Kevin brought up the concern of children not being able to access these books readily, the WCDSB replied with the following strategy., 

“Knowing that a school board, a publicly funded school board was actively banning books from kids. Books that are so important for voices and for kids to get all perspectives just absolutely did not sit right with me and all aspects of my life,” Hannah White, a senior library assistant and children’s programmer at the Kitchener Public Library, said. 

Although there was never an official policy, Hannah says teachers and librarians were encouraged to keep these books in the “Young Adult” section despite being written for students in kindergarten to grade six. In a press released by the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), they stated the books were listed as Professional, or PRO, and not immediately available to students in WCDSB’s’ classrooms. According to the memo from the TWUC,  

“The Blue Spruce, Silver Birch Express and Silver Birch Fiction books listed below have been catalogued as PRO because they don’t align with the Family Life curriculum… Before JK-Grade 6 students may borrow these books from the library, a teacher must provide the Catholic context,”  a memo quoted by TWUC said. 

Kevin highlighted the importance of keeping this issue in the public eye even though the ban has since been lifted. The four books were returned to the shelves in the appropriate section since the start of the school term in Jan. 2024.  

“I was contributing to the ban by not purchasing them, right. I need to look back on that practice of what should I have done differently? Why did I feel that way? Institutionally, what was in place that had me feeling that I couldn’t do that? Why was I afraid of what were the like there are so many, so many pieces of these systems,” Kevin said.   

The books were ordered by participating schools in the WCDSB. The board was restricting them based on their family life curriculum that begins from grades 7 to 8. PRO shelves are primarily used by teachers, although students have access to the titles provided, they first consult a teacher who will provide them with the “Catholic context” for the books.  

“I do a lot of programs for babies and one-year olds with their caregivers for preschoolers, with their caregivers. And a lot of the times I’m just focusing on stories on just doing simple crafts, singing fun songs, but I do make sure that the stories that I’m picking have diverse perspectives,” Hannah said.  

In December 2023, Hannah wrote a Queer Space article about the WCDSB’s informal policy to sensor the books. She called on the school board to rescind the policy and encouraged students to seek out  2SLGBTQ+ books to learn more. In her role she creates children’s programming for preschoolers with their caregivers.  

“What if I had a crush on a girl? What if I liked the girl? And I of course couldn’t go to anyone about that because it’s my religious upbringing with my Christian school, with the churches, within all my social circles. I knew I would never be able to ask that question without being ashamed,” Hannah said. 

The OLA called for a public discussion of the policy direction, citing that any book with limited access to the competition’s voters sits at a distinct disadvantage. In their press release, the Writers’ Union of Canada stated they believe in free access to any 2SLGBTQ+ books. The shadow ban was since lifted in January 2024, when the four books in questions were returned to their proper sections and school staff were no longer required to provide a Catholic context.