Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Fallout from a report detailing a toxic workplace culture at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights characterized by "systemic and pervasive racism" could hinder fundraising efforts for the federal institution.
Mena Gainpaulsingh, chief executive officer of the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said the impact of the 72-page, "Rebuilding the Foundation" report written by Winnipeg lawyer and mediator Laurelle Harris is still being measured.
"Our hope is that – like many other stakeholders – donors will be convinced by the Museum’s actions and transparency that it is worthy of their support, especially given its great potential to educate and inspire people everywhere to take action for human rights," Gainpaulsingh said in an emailed response to questions. She said she was unavailable for a phone interview Thursday.
The Harris report is a product of an external investigation and dives into the internal culture of the museum from 2014 — when it first opened — to the present. Harris interviewed more than 25 current and former staff and found many were traumatized by instances of systemic racism. Harris also found evidence front-facing staff were victims of sexism, heterosexism, transphobia and homophobia.
Lisa Davey, Association of Fundraising Professionals Canada vice president, said scandals such as the one surrounding the Winnipeg museum can erode an organization’s fundraising efforts.
"The fundraising profession is built on trust — trust between the donor and the organization they serve," Davey said. "When scandals occur, they undermine the public’s trust which can in turn result in a reduction in donations."
The tenuous relationship between donors, sponsors and charitable organizations was put into stark relief in recent weeks with the WE Charity embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal.
Royal Bank of Canada ended its sponsorship of the charity alongside Telus, which also moved to end its sponsorship contract, as did KPMG and Loblaws, after WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger testified in front of a House of Commons finance committee on the now cancelled $912-million Canada Student Service Grant program contract.
As of Friday, no sponsors or donors of the CMHR had publicly stated whether they would distance themselves from the museum.
In an email statement to the Free Press, Friends of the CMHR board member Gail Asper said the non-profit has been reaching out directly to supporters to share the Harris report in full. Asper is also a trustee on the museum’s board and spearheaded the campaign to build the museum.
"The Friends’ Board of Trustees supports the CMHR’s focus on moving forward with a concrete action plan to build a workplace that reflects the human rights values that the Museum was founded upon," she said.
In the Harris report, the author noted front-facing staff who identify as Black, Indigenous or as persons of colour reported microaggressions and explicitly racist comments from members of the public and while hosting stakeholders and donors. Through the investigation, she also confirmed allegations that LGBTTQ+ content was deliberately concealed or omitted from children on school tours on seven occasions between 2015 and 2017.
"Everyone who comes to the Museum must reflect the highest standards of respect, including donors," Gainpaulsingh said. "We absolutely and unreservedly agree that no Museum content should be censored or hidden for any reason."
Gainpaulsingh said racist comments are unacceptable and moving forward Friends of the CMHR will be working with the museum to craft a response informed by the 44 recommendations made by Harris in her report.
In response to a question, Gainpaulsingh said she doesn’t think sensibilities of sponsors, donors and stakeholders were elevated above the content or mandate of the museum in the past.
“Everyone who comes to the Museum must reflect the highest standards of respect, including donors. We absolutely and unreservedly agree that no Museum content should be censored or hidden for any reason.” – Mena Gainpaulsingh
"I can only speak from my own experience and observations, but I do not believe that was ever the case," she said. "It has always been crystal clear that fundraising cannot dictate content."
However, Gainpaulsingh, who joined the Friends of the CMHR in spring 2018 and built her career in the human rights sector, conceded it is not an easy task to raise funds for the museum while managing donor demands.
"The museum’s content is diverse and portrayed from multiple perspectives – including those that some find controversial," Gainpaulsingh said. "The vast majority of donors and supporters understand that. They are committed to the overarching ideals of human rights — that everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights — and that we need to create a world where everyone embraces those ideals."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.