Hair today, gone tomorrow: Margaret Atwood in Canada censorship row

Author’s satirical piece on prime minister Stephen Harper’s hair is removed within hours of publication on National Post website: ‘Did I just get censored?’

She is a prize-winning author who has conjured vivid dystopian futures, but on Friday Margaret Atwood found herself at the centre of a somewhat mundane censorship debate in the present.

The acclaimed author penned a satirical column lambasting Canada’s conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s hair, which has become an unusual talking point in the lead up to the general election in October.

Hours after publication on the National Post website, the piece was removed. Senior newspaper staff later said “the necessary fact checking had not been completed”.

Canada’s PM Harper speaks during a campaign stop.
Stephen Harper and his hair. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

“Um, did I just get censored? For my flighty little caper on Hair?” Atwood tweeted after #Hairgate began trending on Twitter.

Throughout the election campaign, the Canadian Conservative party has attacked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as inexperienced and lacking in policy focus. It has also mocked him simply for having “nice hair”. Trudeau has hit back through advertising, arguing Harper is struggling to talk about anything else.

Atwood’s piece argued the entire debate had trivialised the election. “Hair, an election issue? Really?” she wrote, before going on to poke fun at Harper.

Justin Trudeau and his hair.
Justin Trudeau and his hair. Photograph: Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

“Of the three national male leaders, which one travels with a personal grooming assistant – lavishly paid for in whole or in part by you, gentle taxpayer – so that none of his hairs will ever be out of place … Hint: Initials are SH.”

The column was eventually republished by the National Post, with three sentences, which made reference to Harper’s political donations and a recent travel expenses scandal, removed.

The edits appeared to outrage the author even more – Atwood said the piece had been submitted nine days before it was published.

“Which of my facts were Wrong? What are the alternate facts, presumably Right? Cite sources please,” she tweeted at the National Post on Saturday, after thanking readers for the flurry of puns mocking the episode, which had erupted on Twitter throughout the day.


Oliver Laughland in New York

The GuardianTramp

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