The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened last September surrounded by controversy. Protestors at the ribbon-cutting ceremony ranged from First Nations members to Palestinians. A Tribe Called Red cancelled their show at the opening gala.
By then, it had become clear that the museum was an exercise in Conservative propaganda.
James Kafieh, an Ontario lawyer and chair of Canadians for Genocide Education, said the CMHR promoted an “elite” view of human rights, elevating one atrocity over all others in pursuit of an “emotionally manipulative indoctrination.”
Built on “stolen land” via establishment privilege and backroom dealing, he said it does not respect the twin pillars of “inclusivity and equity.” He observed, “This is the gift that keeps on taking” – at taxpayers’ expense.
The museum was a dream of the late media tycoon Israel Asper, founder of the Global Television Network who later purchased what is now known as the Postmedia newspaper chain. According the lore, when Asper talked with Canadian children he found they knew the stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and other Americans who fought for human rights but knew next to nothing about Canadians who had done the same. He died before the museum became a reality. One wonders what he would think of what became of his dream?
It’s clear the project became mired in Stephen Harper’s political goals.
Tricia Logan, a former curator at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said she was told to remove the term “genocide” from Indigenous exhibits. She also alleges she was ordered to limit negative stories about missing and murdered women and the state of Aboriginal child welfare. In sum, stories of the wrongs done to Indigenous people were to be watered down in an effort to promote positive Canadian content.
“As a curator at the CMHR, I was consistently reminded that every mention of state-perpetrated atrocity against Indigenous peoples in Canada must be matched with a ‘balanced’ statement that indicates reconciliation, apology or compensation provided by the government,” Logan writes in a new book, Remembering Genocide. “In cases where those issues are not reconciled or where accusations of abuse against the government continue to this day, the stories are reduced in scope or are removed from the museum.”
Critics of the museum say that federal funding is not arms-length, and that the content comes with politically motivated censorship.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups have never lobbied to have the federally mandated requirements change because, in part, they were busy with more pressing, real-life emergencies, Logan said. That dynamic “relegated and already-marginalized Aboriginal history to a critically under-representative segment of the museum.”
The government attempt to whitewash history is nothing short of shameful. It makes a mockery of the official apology to residential school survivors. It shows a complete disregard for the murdered and missing women. It diminishes the concerns surrounding Aboriginal child welfare and more.
Those who seek knowledge will have to take the museum and the stories it is trying to impart with many grains of salt. The actions of the Conservative government and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights reinforce the reality that politics and the truth do not go hand in hand.