October 23, 2020

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CMHR president steps down early amid allegations

With his institution under fire for excluding LGBTTQ+ content from designated school tours, and amid allegations of systemic workplace racism and staff misconduct, the president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has stepped down from his roles.

John Young’s departure was announced in a news release sent to media Thursday evening. His term was set to expire in August, and Young had previously announced he wouldn't seek re-appointment.

John Young’s departure was announced in a news release sent to media Thursday evening. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

John Young’s departure was announced in a news release sent to media Thursday evening. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"The board and CMHR president and CEO Dr. John Young have agreed that it is in the best interest of the museum that he step down, effective immediately," the release stated. While the search for a replacement takes place, Pauline Rafferty, chairwoman of the Winnipeg-based museum’s board of trustees, will act as interim chief executive officer.

In recent days, the national museum has received significant backlash for going against its mandate of promoting human rights, when it was revealed CMHR staff were instructed in 2015-17 to censor LGBTTQ+ content from tours for some student groups.

Following that revelation, several former and current employees came forward with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace by a man still employed by the museum, telling the CBC complaints to human resources officials resulted in no action or follow up.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the museum confirmed to the Free Press it had investigated two sexual harassment complaints in the last three years, using a third-party to conduct the investigation.

The spokesperson said there were no sexual harassment investigations currently underway.

In early June, current and former staff members also levelled allegations of racism and discrimination by fellow employees, management, and visitors to the CMHR.

With the museum under considerable pressure amid public outrage, Young’s departure was announced along with other measures the museum’s board says are meant to take "immediate action" and "undertake long-term steps to address these issues."

"We will act quickly to improve museum processes and our policies, and to rebuild relationships and trust with our staff and those we have let down, especially the Black and Indigenous communities, people of colour and (LGBTTQ+) communities," Rafferty said in the news release.

"We apologize unreservedly for what has happened and we know that the fight against systemic racism, homophobia, inequality and all forms of othering must be ongoing, and must be a priority."

A third-party review led by renowned human rights litigator Laurelle Harris is underway, the release said — with its intention to put the museum’s policies and workplace culture under the microscope and "for the purpose of addressing claims of systemic oppression."

According to the release, the review will focus on experiences of systemic racism and other forms of discrimination, as well as the censorship of LGBTTQ+ content. After the review, the museum’s board says there will be a "comprehensive, institution-wide" examination, during which former and current staff can share their experiences.

The preliminary findings, including recommendations for moving forward, are due to be received by July 31.

The release also says the board has established a new committee on diversity inclusion, chaired by Julie Jai, a former member of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Since the revelations of censorship first arose, the museum has faced heavy criticism. Glen Murray, a former mayor of Winnipeg, who is gay, withdrew from a CMHR fundraising committee over what he called in a tweet a "betrayal of (the museum’s) mandate."

"We know the past two weeks have been difficult for the museum’s staff and volunteers, its members, donors, and the community — and we apologize for that," Rafferty said in the release.

"This is especially true for all those who look to the museum as a place dedicated to human rights, to building understanding, promoting respect, and encouraging reflection. We recognize that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard."



Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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Updated on Friday, June 26, 2020 at 6:49 AM CDT: Corrects reference to Canadian Museum for Human Rights, adds note that Young had previously announced he wouldn't seek re-appointment

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