OLA's Les Fowlie Intellectual Freedom Award

The Ontario Library Association Board of Directors established the Award for Intellectual Freedom in 1997 to recognize the courage shown by individuals and organizations in defending the rights of library patrons to full access to information. In 2000, the Award was renamed the Les Fowlie Intellectual Freedom Award in memory of the former Chief Librarian of Toronto Public Library whose efforts on behalf of intellectual freedom in Canada are legendary.

To apply: Complete the online nomination form by November 1
For questions or more information, contact awards@accessola.com

To view more information on eligibility and nomination procedures
To view past recipients

2018 Award Recipient


Vickery Bowles

City Librarian, Toronto District School Board
In July 2017 Ms. Bowles defended Toronto Public Library's stance on a library room booking for Barbara Kulaszka’s memorial service. Ms. Kulaszka was a lawyer who had represented Holocaust deniers in her practice, and the booking was seen by many as allowing Nazi rhetoric to enter the library space. Ms. Bowles insisted that denying access to these library services contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the principles of intellectual freedom and the cornerstone of the library’s mission and values. 
Despite mounting political pressure from the Mayor of Toronto, and intense scrutiny from national and international media, Ms. Bowles remained steadfast to the values of librarianship and was able to maintain a respectful dialog throughout the situation. Her efforts have gone on to encourage more library systems to reflect on their policies, and to remind librarians of their professional values and principles. OLA Board 2017

2017 Award Recipient


Graduate Resource Centre 

Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University

As public concern over digital surveillance and the large-scale collection of user data grows, it is heartening to see the vital work that libraries perform to protect patrons’ rights to privacy, intellectual freedom, and unfettered access to information. Staff at the Graduate Resource Centre (GRC) in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University have taken this work to a new level. In a first for Canadian libraries, GRC staff launched a Tor relay service in March 2016. The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the internet. When users connect to a website over the Tor network, their encrypted information bounces along a series of relays rather than making a direct connection. This method allows both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy. Tor can be used to prevent websites from tracking users, to provide access to websites which might be blocked or censored in some parts of the world, and also to maintain anonymity online. The service is also a hands-on educational opportunity for students, who learn about technology and data privacy issues. Sarah Simpkin, OLITA President 2016