Journal: News & Comment

Friday, June 13, 2003
# 11:26:00 PM:

Friendly Surrey

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The Vancouver suburb of Surrey is a large city, growing quickly enough that its population may soon exceed that of the City of Vancouver itself. But Surrey has an image problem, and has been the butt of jokes for decades. Its school board isn't helping matters.

Surrey has high rates of auto theft, its Whalley and Newton neighbourhoods are renowned for their drug trade and dilapidated houses with rusting cars in the yards, and the term Surrey girl is not generally meant as a compliment. As I said, it's a large city, so many other parts of it are very nice indeed. Yet the reputation is so strong that some people in south Surrey claim to live in neighbouring White Rock, or mention their Crescent Beach neighbourhood rather than the actual city it's part of, to avoid the taint.

Anyway, six years after it originally banned three books about same-sex parents from its kindergarten and other elementary classrooms, the Surrey School Board has banned them again. However, this time the board claims that the ban is now not because of the books' subject, but, in one book's case (and here's my angle), because it was poorly edited!

"This story has problems with punctuation and grammar throughout. The spelling of 'favourite' is inconsistent, switching from the Canadian to the American," said board chair Mary Polak about Asha's Mums.

The board's reasons for continuing to ban the other two books are similarly, er, incongruous. That's because a previous Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that the topic of same-sex parents—which, the court noted, reflects the reality that such family arrangements do exist—was not a valid reason to ban the books. So the school board decided to find another set of unrelated reasons, which "coincidentally" hit all three of the books under consideration.

So far indications are that no other books have been subject to similar scrutiny. While many of us editors might relish the thought that books might be banned for inconsistent spelling (how that would increase the market for our work!), it seems pretty obvious that's not the real reason at all.

Incidentally, I'd be pretty happy if my daughter, who begins kindergarten in the fall, were able to spell "favourite" in a form that appears in any dictionary at all. She can spell her name, but not much else at the moment.

The case is going back to court. The Surrey School Board will likely lose, again, as it deserves to. In the meantime, gay couples marrying in Ontario and wanting to move west are unlikely to contribute much to Surrey's population growth.


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