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Human-rights museum under fire for alleged censorship

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The Canadian Museum of Human Rights removed a blog post by a historian which criticized the federal government.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights removed a blog post by a historian which criticized the federal government. Photo Store

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is weathering a censorship allegation after deleting a blog post it commissioned from a Tyrell medal-winning Canadian historian.

To coincide with International Women’s Day, the Winnipeg-based museum asked Veronica Strong-Boag, a historian specializing in the history of women and children in Canada, to pen a blog post in her area of expertise.

The post appeared on March 4, but was removed hours later after museum staff deemed a passage criticizing the federal Conservative government unacceptable.

The passage in question described the Conservatives as having an "anti-woman record." She said museum staff first asked her to back up that claim, but ultimately rejected a footnoted posting as a partisan statement.

"It suggests that human rights are almost purely about entertainment and that authors can pretend impartiality in dealing with them." -

-Strong-Boag

In a letter to Strong-Boag, museum communications director Angela Cassie apologized for failing to explain what was expected from blog-post authors.

"We will more clearly ask that guest blogs consist of anecdotal accounts of first-person experiences that illuminate human rights themes," Cassie wrote. "We also make efforts to ensure that guest blogs not be used as, or be perceived as, a platform for political positions or partisan statements."

In a response letter, Strong-Boag called Cassie’s statement "naive and pedagogically unsound" for a museum "supposedly dedicated" to promoting human rights.

"It suggests that human rights are almost purely about entertainment and that authors can pretend impartiality in dealing with them," Strong-Boag wrote.

Strong-Boag said when she was asked to back up her "anti-woman" claim, she cited the Conservatives’ cancellation of plans for a national child care program, cuts to Status of Women Canada, the prohibition of civil servants taking pay equity complaints to the Human Rights Commission, the denial of international funding for abortion and cuts to public services that employ and serve women.

Strong-Boag said she was surprised when the post was still rejected.

"As long we indicate where our evidence comes from and provide access to that evidence, I can’t imagine there would be any difficulty," she said, describing the museum’s decision as an example of censorship.

Maureen Fitzhenry, the museum’s media relations manager, rejected the assertion the museum was impinging upon academic freedom.

“This isn’t a question of academic freedom, it’s a question of what we think we are wanting for our blog posts.”

-CMHR's Maureen Fitzhenry

"At a university, of course that’s a legitimate discussion. We are a museum. There’s a legitimate conversation about academic freedom among our own staff. In this case, it was a guest blog," she said.

"This isn’t a question of academic freedom, it’s a question of what we think we are wanting for our blog posts."

Strong-Boag is a visiting scholar at Trent University, a professor emerita at University of British Columbia, a former president of the Canadian Historical Association and the 2012 winner of the Tyrell medal for outstanding work in Canadian history.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is slated to open this fall, has weathered criticism from departed staff who claimed the museum’s content has been watered down to reflect more positive Canadian stories.

The museum has rejected that assertion as unbalanced.

History

Updated on Monday, March 10, 2014 at 2:48 PM CDT: corrects typo

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