Election won’t change content of CMHR exhibits

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On a recent trip to British Columbia to cover the federal election, I had an opportunity to talk to James Moore, the Tory candidate in Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam and the federal heritage minister. He is a tall, confident spokesman for his party. No wonder: he was a talk radio host before entering politics. The conversation was principally about the Tory campaign in the Lower Mainland. However, it seemed like a perfect moment to slip in a question about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/04/2011 (4137 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On a recent trip to British Columbia to cover the federal election, I had an opportunity to talk to James Moore, the Tory candidate in Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam and the federal heritage minister. He is a tall, confident spokesman for his party. No wonder: he was a talk radio host before entering politics. The conversation was principally about the Tory campaign in the Lower Mainland. However, it seemed like a perfect moment to slip in a question about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The CMHR is a Crown corporation under Moore’s oversight. He had been in Winnipeg a week earlier for a meeting of the museum’s board and CEO Stuart Murray. On the agenda at that meeting was a campaign by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association against the decision to create a permanent Holocaust gallery at the museum. These groups believe devoting one gallery to the Holocaust does a disservice to the Holodomor, the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s, and other atrocities.

Moore said he was confident the museum would “unite and not divide Canadians.” However, he said he had been told no final decisions on museum content had been made and that no one subject would be getting permanent status. “There will be no permanent exhibits,” Moore said. “That was very clear from Stuart Murray and the board.”

Semantics has always played an important role in the debate over the CMHR’s content, but Moore’s statement could, if taken at face value, mark a departure in policy for the museum.

It has been well reported that there will be 12 “zones” in the museum. Each zone has a broad subject area; taken together, the zones mark a journey through the world of human rights. Although specific content will always be changing, one zone will focus on the struggle of aboriginal people in Canada, and one will look at the Holocaust and its role in forging international human rights law. These have been described in various forums as “permanent” galleries. However, the content in the other 10 zones has never been “less permanent.” And it is not a sign of disrespect that other individual stories do not have their own zone. The plight of aboriginal people is a quintessential story for a Canadian human rights museum. And to study human rights in a global and historical context, the Holocaust is a watershed event.

It is important to note that the very genesis of the project, the brainchild of Winnipeg entrepreneur Israel Asper, was to give Canada an institution that marked the Holocaust and Canada’s role in it. An assault by the small-minded and ashamed defeated earlier efforts to do just that. The CMHR is the remedy for that injustice.

It was never entirely correct to say that there are going to be only two stories with a permanent place in the CMHR. There are many stories, events and incidents, including the Holodomor, which will find a permanent place in this museum.

Based on that background, how could Moore say there will be no permanent exhibits? Unfortunately for the CMHR, in the heat of an election campaign, Moore needs to say that there are no permanent exhibits in the museum even if that is not entirely true. To say otherwise might provoke an already exercised constituency that makes up for its lack of numbers with a loud and relentless attack. And really, who needs that kind of trouble when you’re trying to win an election?

The reality is no one can satisfy the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association. To do that, the CMHR would have to create a separate gallery on the Holodomor. Although this horrible event will be marked in the museum in a permanent way, only something of identical square footage will suffice, and that’s not likely to happen. Not because someone is trying to disrespect the Holodomor, but because this is not a museum of atrocities. It is a museum about human rights, and some stories need to be told first.

There is no doubt that the UCC/UCCLA had hoped a politician would pander to them and promise change in the museum’s content. That has not happened, yet, although Moore’s comments come dangerously close. The stories of aboriginal people and the Holocaust deserve the attention they are getting in the museum because they are important to understanding human rights both here and around the world. To suggest otherwise is not fair or accurate, and will only serve to create more trouble down the road.

The election will not change the content of the CMHR when it opens to the public in 2013. However, the campaign has muddied the debate over the museum’s content and put honesty and accuracy a bit further from our reach.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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