Canadian Museum Wronging The Rights

By Ben Hamill - July 20 2020

Canadian Museum Wronging The Rights

It’s a museum wholly dedicated to celebrating human rights. And in a time of physical distancing especially, it’s supposed to be a safe haven inviting people out of living in the shadows for fear of discrimination and being shamed, and into an embracing solidarity of apart – but together. It’s the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and sadly, it has traditionally stood for exactly the opposite.

The museum and everything it’s supposed to stand for have yet again been drawn into serious doubt following a recent outcry by former employees over racism being more alive than ever, issues around white privilege, and even discrimination by way of censorship against the LGBQ community.

The “Canadian Museum for Human Wrongs” certainly seems a description much more on the mark.

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Missed The Mark

Originally intended as a beacon in honour of the Jewish Holocaust, the museum was launched by way of a private initiative by Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist Israel Asper in 2003. Asper however died shortly after, and the project was subsequently taken over by his daughter.

Yet to officially open its doors by 2008, the museum was awarded national Crown corporation status, and it was announced by former PM Stephen Harper’s administration that Ottawa would be picking up the bill for the institution’s costs of operations.

The irregularities began shortly after, with the institution’s very first CEO, namely Stuart Murray, having had absolutely no experience governing a museum, and even less knowledge regarding human rights challenges. Murray was however a former leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Manitoba, and as poster child a political check and government inside-influence as they came.

Mired In Controversy

When the museum did finally open in 2014, less than half of its 11 galleries could be viewed. What’s more, all those exhibits about Canadian and Indigenous human rights remained tellingly and poignantly closed for weeks on end. Incidentally, that also marked the end of Murray’s position as CEO.

Not only did the institution’s $351 million opening cost-tab turn out grossly overrun and overstated – not to mention overspent – but stories about how only 2% of the 600,000 artefacts of Indigenous historical value that had been discovered and excavated leading up to the grand opening ended up making it into the museum’s treasure-safe at all, soon began to run rife.

Former archeology curator (Manitoba Museum) E. Leigh Syms would later go on to describe everything that had happened at the Winnipeg-museum as having been the “worst” case of “legal destruction” of heritage that he had ever had the tragic misfortune of witnessing.

And sadly, it’s a destruction that continues even now. Only this time round, it’s not the artefacts being destroyed, but actual human beings. 

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