The Unjust Society: 1975 Evaluation Review

The Baby Boom and Generation X eras of public school textbook selection in Canada were massively impacted by panel majority recommendations being refused by government. Because of one sensitivity or another, Ontario’s Ministry of Education refused the panel decisions organized and paid for on behalf of its citizens. Hundreds of books were kept from classrooms in this fashion. While most files were destroyed, what remains suggests that perhaps five books a year on average were chosen by Ministry selected panelists and then withheld from circulation.

In some cases rejection letters to publishers were written in order to obfuscate the context. The Ministry might suggest the panel had rejected the text when in fact a provincial bureaucrat was rejecting not only the book but the majority recommendation as well.

From 1948 when Canada signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ontario would have been ignoring the country’s international obligations to respect freedoms of thought and conscience, of freedom of opinion and expression, to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, as spelled out in Articles 18 and 19. Canada’s own 1960 Bill of Rights and 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms further clarified Canadians’ rights to open and free communication.

As the country’s most populous province, schooling almost half of Canada’s English speakers, Ontario’s secret censorship program impacted domestic publishing and the country’s ability to express itself culturally. English textbooks made available across Canada were primarily designed for Ontario’s prejudices. Although the Ministry shared guidelines, there were unspoken rules and prejudices that publishers only came to understand with time and practice. And this restrictive environment had consequences. Today not even 10% of the books once optimistically developed and published annually for elementary and secondary schools are created. The economic incentive disappeared.

Using the treatment of the late Harold Cardinal’s The Unjust Society in 1975 as an example—the text had been rejected in 1969 as well—one of the tasks Art & Commodity is focused on is sharing bibliographic and evaluation information as well as correspondence between publisher and the Ministry of Education to shine a light on a poorly understood piece of public school programming. What prevented these censored texts from winning approval? What made them and their authors relevant to Canada?

Original Roy Peterson designed cover of Harold Cardinal’s The Unjust Society.

These evaluation reviews will offer interested readers more findings from the long-term research project, begun in 2007, that led to the publication of NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS: Textbooks, Political Censorship and Mind Control in a Democracy in 2014, as well as a number of journal and magazine articles and reviews.

Thanks to feedback and advice from academia, publishers and educators, a second manuscript titled Canadian Mockingbird: Textbook Censorship and Fraud in the Great White North has been developed and is now being shopped around. Potentially interested publishers are encouraged to make contact through Plum Development Services  or Art and Commodity for sponsorship opportunities.

The Unjust Society: The Tragedy of Canada’s Indians by Harold Cardinal; M.G. Hurtig Ltd., Publishers, Edmonton, orig., 1969

The title of The Unjust Society was a play on Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s “just society” white paper which sought to eliminate Canada’s Indian Act rights, or “encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship” as then worded. In response, Harold Cardinal, then just twenty-four years of age and who would later earn a doctorate in law from the University of British Columbia, explained First Nations legal rights as indistinguishable.

In its obituary, his alma mater described the legal scholar as the pre-eminent First Nations leader of the twentieth century on par with prime ministers Diefenbaker, Pearson and (Pierre) Trudeau. Despite Cardinal’s renown and the book’s impact, the submission from Publisher Hurtig was rejected twice. The back cover description positioned the text as “a plea, addressed to all Canadians, to let the Indian face the future on his own terms. This book is a warning, from a young Cree leader who understands what his people have come to, of what will happen if Canadians continue to pretend they haven’t heard that plea.”

There are First Nations leaders today who argue Canada’s Department of Justice’s current push for municipalization of Indigenous nations is a continuation of this earlier effort.

November 1975 Panel: 4 Recommendations, 1 Rejection

Ministry of Education Decision: Rejection

Rationale: For individual research, Polemic vs 1968 policy

Review Excerpts

“To state that The Unjust Society is biased would be a gross understatement. However, before dismissing the book out of hand, it should be noted that the bias is quite clear and obvious – “I intend to document the betrayals of our trust, to show step by step how a dictatorial bureaucracy has eroded our rights, atrophied our culture and robbed us of simple human dignity.” Cardinal’s pro-native stance will undoubtedly make many non-native Canadians uneasy, if not angry. This fact should not dissuade every Canadian from reading Cardinal’s views, views held by many native people in this country. Language in the book is often harsh, but not particularly offensive.”

“The content of the book is completely biased. It presents factual information only when it contributes to the development of his bias thesis. In many instances the book contains information that is inaccurate. The main thrust of the book is a response to the federal working paper, Indian Policy of 1968. But much of the policy suggested by the federal government has since been abandoned. (The book, The Unjust Society itself played a significant role in the changing of the government stance). From a textbook point of view the book is very dated in its information.”


To Hurtig | “The above title, recently submitted by you for our consideration has been carefully evaluated and found to be a book of polemic nature suitable for individual research but not suitable as a textbook to be listed in Circular 14. The binding was also criticized by our reviewers as being weak.”

From Hurtig | “The Unjust Society by Harold Cardinal is one of the most important Canadian books published during the past decade. Since its publication in 1969, it has sold over seventy-five thousand copies and has been used at dozens and dozens of Canadian and foreign universities on course. In addition, it has been regularly used at scores of post-secondary institutions across Canada as a textbook. As well the book has been exported around the world and has been excerpted in twelve different high school readers and other post-secondary level textbooks…

…hundreds of favourable reviews…this book was responsible for defeating the government’s 1968 White Paper on Indian policy…a policy which would have been disastrous for Canada’s native people…

…whoever ‘carefully evaluated’ the book and found it to be “of a polemic nature” should probably be restricted to reading Chatelaine Magazine.”