September 19, 2020

Winnipeg
12° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Close this
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

CMHR announces workplace review after multiple complaints of racism

Days after 15,000 demonstrators marched to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to protest racial inequality, the iconic Winnipeg institution says it is confronting its own issues of racism in the workplace.

"I'm accountable to make sure we do better," John Young said.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / FREE PRESS FILES

"I'm accountable to make sure we do better," John Young said.

"We will be hiring an external person to review and listen to the personal experiences of any current and former staff person, including the experiences shared on social media, and to offer other ways to participate," CMHR president and chief executive officer John Young said in a statement Wednesday.

For days, current and former employees had railed on social media against museum officials for not addressing complaints of racism made by Black, Indigenous, and people of colour staff. Some said when they tried to get management and human resources to act, they were ignored, chastised or singled out as troublemakers.

"Black employees have been bringing forward these issues to every level of management since the opening of the museum," Thiané Diop said on Facebook.

As part of the museum's response, Young wrote on the CMHR's Facebook page: "Too often, voices breaking the silence on racism are marginalized, ignored or dismissed. As an institution dedicated to human rights, the museum seeks to amplify those voices. But it is also the museum’s responsibility to listen when issues are raised about its own practices and take action to address them."

 

 

The statement outraged former employee Julie White.

"I remember being in a typical, highly tense CMHR meeting with management HR, yourself and the V-P, and your V-P actually told me that when we brought up concerns about racism, it made them feel unsafe," White posted on Facebook. "I had to remind them that it was not our responsibility to make them feel safe, it was the other way around."

On Wednesday, both White and Diop said they weren't prepared to be interviewed by media.

"I'm accountable to make sure we do better," Young told the Free Press in an interview Wednesday,

Young said he'd heard about "a few" of the workplace complaints of racism, but not all of them. He said he didn't want to get into details about specific cases.

The Winnipeg–based museum plans to "transparent throughout, sharing with all staff the results of the investigation and audit and the action plan."

"Some of these complaints have come up through human resources," he said. "We have a process that responds to them. The process is similar across institutions.

A sample of CMHR complaints 

One Indigenous employee spoke about a volunteer questioning how she got her job and telling her it was likely due to her race. Another said a white coworker couldn't find their cell phone and looked in her purse to see if she had taken it.

One Indigenous employee spoke about a volunteer questioning how she got her job and telling her it was likely due to her race. Another said a white coworker couldn't find their cell phone and looked in her purse to see if she had taken it.

An employee who was reading the book Why I'm no Longer Talking about Race to White People during a break at a training session recalled being "hauled into a meeting" days later with their white manager and supervisor and told how personally offended and hurt the supervisor was by the title of their book. "I was asked to apologize because she felt my reading it was targeted at her and others. I wish I was joking."

One said the CMHR's Kairos blanket exercise - a participatory history lesson developed with and led by Indigenous Elders and educators to foster reconciliation among Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples often wasn't led by anyone Indigenous.

"The program was often led by a non-Indigenous person and delivered to Indigenous kids, some coming from reserves. I'll never forget the looks on these beautiful brown babies' faces as a white man said out loud 'imagine if this had happened to your people' when it did literally happen to them."

Sara Anderson, the assistant manager for the KAIROS Blanket Exercise program who lef the training for Canadian Museum for Human Rights staff in 2017, said KAIROS does require Indigenous leadership for each exercise.

"We were not aware of concerns that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was not complying with our protocols," she told the Free Press Wednesday. "We reached out to the former employee and spoke with her about her concerns, and we will be following up with the museum."

sources: Instagram, Facebook

"Our action going forward is to have a review of those processes."

When asked why he didn't act if he knew about the complaints and how they were being handled, Young said any corporation or institution has a distribution of job responsibilities, but the buck stops with him.

"I hold myself accountable," he said. "We have a high standards and expectations."

Complaints by former and current employees on social media "are outcomes of frustration and kind of a call to action," Young acknowledged.

"We need to heal and the CMHR needs to face the truth out in the open," said Armando Perla, a curator who was one of the CMHR's co-founders.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES

"We need to heal and the CMHR needs to face the truth out in the open," said Armando Perla, a curator who was one of the CMHR's co-founders.

The CEO said the museum is hiring an external organization to do a comprehensive audit of workplace practices and policies around diversity, respect, anti-racism and non-discrimination. It will use the results to develop an action plan.

"I want to be clear that while accountability for this plan lays with the leadership team, its development and implementation will be done in partnership, working with people," Young said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

The Winnipeg-based museum plans to "transparent throughout, sharing with all staff the results of the investigation and audit and the action plan."

Lack of diversity in Canadian museum leadership decried

Click to Expand
Armando Perla left the CMHR earlier this year to work at the Museum of Movements in Malmo, Sweden Armando. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)
Armando Perla left the CMHR earlier this year to work at the Museum of Movements in Malmo, Sweden Armando. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Posted: 23/10/2019 7:00 PM

The lack of diversity among decision makers at museums needs to be addressed for the institutions to stay relevant, says a curator who was among the co-founders of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"Museums are some of the whitest institutions in the Western world," said Armando Perla, who left the CMHR earlier this year to work at the Museum of Movements in Malmo, Sweden. That's a problem because implicit bias and white privilege can seep into the way people's stories are told or not told, said Perla, who co-authored an article published Tuesday in the journal Museum Management and Curatorship.

Read Full Story

In October, the Free Press asked Young about the lack of diversity in management at the CMHR, following a report in the journal Museum Management and Curatorship. The 16-page article said of the 26 managerial and executive positions on the CMHR website, just one was occupied by a person belonging to a visible minority.

At the time, Young said the CMHR was actively trying to recruit and retain a diverse staff — as are many other institutions and corporations, and it is an "important issue."

In an Instagram post Wednesday, one of the authors of the museum journal report called for the CMHR to launch "a truth and reconciliation process led by past and present Black and Indigenous employees who have been victimized by the institution," and to include other people of colour.

"We need to heal and the CMHR needs to face the truth out in the open," said Armando Perla, a curator who was one of the CMHR's co-founders, in an Instagram post. Perla declined a request for an interview on Wednesday. According to his social media posts, Perla, who identifies as a queer man, experienced homophobia while employed at the museum in Winnipeg and was marginalized for speaking up.

Young said he hopes those with grievances will be willing to take part in the museum's review process.

"I think it's important that we acknowledge the statements made and we need also to acknowledge the frustrations and courage demonstrated. We do intend to seek the opportunity to include a variety of perspectives," he said.

"It would be a perfect world if we could solve these challenges tomorrow. It's a long road."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 7:46 AM CDT: Edits reference to Armando Perla

8:15 AM: Clarifies Perla's statement was posted via social media

1:03 PM: Adds sample of complaints

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.

To submit a letter:
• fill out the form on this page, or
• email letters@freepress.mb.ca, or
• mail Letters to the Editor, 1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 3B6.

Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.