Documents Reveal History of National Library’s Mad Race to Clean Up Website After Star Exposed “Offensive” Content


National library staff quickly went into full cleanup mode in June amid a PR crisis over ‘offensive’ online content, while claiming that lack of resources prevented them from making changes earlier, documents obtained by the Star program.

Library and Archives Canada staff were working to find and remove “offensive content” from the organization’s website after it was revealed that some of the pages deliberately excluded Indigenous peoples and non-white views , according to documents obtained through an access to information request.

Employees were tasked with browsing podcasts, Flickr, blogs and other web pages, working with a list of “hastily assembled” criteria to determine what they thought offensive content should look like.

“There are about 1,000 blogs that have been published since 2012 and a lot of them need to be revised or removed; the lack of indigenous perspective / erasure being one of the main problems, ”wrote an employee in an email to his colleagues, underlining the magnitude of the work.

The mad rush to clean up Library and Archives Canada’s website came after The Star reported on June 5 an internal memo that indicated a “deliberate and systematic exclusion of Indigenous and non-White communities and perspectives” throughout the section on the Canadian Confederation presented on the federal government. government site.

John A. Macdonald’s library biography that omitted any mention of residential schools and other racist policies against Indigenous peoples was also still online as of June, despite concerns from Indigenous advocates voiced as early as fall 2020.

Biographies of Macdonald and others finally began to be deleted on June 5. On June 7, the Biographies and Confederation section was removed. On June 18, an apology appeared on the main website of Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada. The lawyers had never asked that the pages be permanently erased, simply that they present precise and balanced information.

In an interview with the Star this week, Weir said the organization is in the process of redesigning its website and plans to launch a new web presence next year.

She said the decision was taken in October 2020, when concerns were first raised, to delete certain pages, including the Prime Minister’s biographies, which were then covered with “Archived Web” banners.

“The challenge is that we have about 7,000 pages on our website and about 100 databases, and everything is linked and referred to each other,” she said.

Weir said a team worked on the project with a planned withdrawal date of June 29, “which may have been a bit too late,” given the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School at the end of May. . “This of course put the spotlight back on our first prime minister,” she said.

In a June 5 email with the subject line “followed by today’s Toronto Star article,” Weir said, “We need the Confederation page to be changed or removed as soon as possible, at the latest. next week or later in the month ”.

An official wrote to a colleague in June that the reason the prime minister’s biographies were kept online was a lack of resources.

“I think we need to plan to unplug the plug. The reason we had NOT suggested removing it before is because we thought we would have the ability to reorganize, and we’re not doing that at the moment, so removing the bios is a better bet ” , wrote the employee.

In a June 8 email to colleagues, an official wrote that Weir had ordered the removal of any offensive content from the website. But employees lamented that they were not given a definition of what “offensive content” should look like.

“Leslie asked us to remove any ‘offensive’ content from the website,” the manager wrote. “We are now trying to identify what that might be.”

Weir told The Star that his directive was limited to removing “all offensive material that relates directly to the biographies of prime ministers and the Confederation site.”

A “hastily assembled” list of criteria compiled by staff included pages on residential school architects “making no mention of their role” and the erasure of indigenous peoples, including maps indicating “uninhabited land.”

“Report anything that lacks Indigenous perspectives and / or that ignores or rejects the impact of colonialism on First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation”, according to the criteria. “It can be more difficult to decide what goes or stays – identify the concerns and we can discuss the limit. It’s a huge category.

A list shared among staff showed nearly 70 pieces of online content (photos, blogs, podcasts, web sections) flagged for deletion or editing or requiring warnings, for reasons such as boarding school omissions, outdated language and the erasure of indigenous peoples.

Weir told The Star that offensive content “is in the eye of the beholder” and that institutions like his “try to make sure things are looked at from the perspective of traditionally marginalized people and not just from the perspective of people who are traditionally marginalized. view of those responsible. “

When asked why Library and Archives had not done this work years ago, Weir said the work was “very complex” and the organization had also been busy working on a number of issues. other initiatives, including the digitization of parts of its collection relating to indigenous peoples.

“It is nothing less than systemic racism in action,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, academic director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Center at the University of British Columbia.

“It really shows that there is a very serious leadership and administration problem regarding the collection, retention and proper information about Canada in relation to Indigenous peoples.”

Turpel-Lafond said this reinforces his belief that Canada needs state-funded national Indigenous archives that have the power to compel the filing of documents. She also reiterated a call for an external review of Library and Archives, including how it presents information to the public.


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