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Winnipeg Sun | 11Apr2012 | David Asper
CMHR critics should back
off Gail: Asper
As a public institution, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a
legitimate object of scrutiny.
Canadians are entitled to know how their tax dollars are being spent
and express a wide diversity of views about this project.
Sun Media has given particular voice to those who oppose a variety of
aspects about the museum. Sun Media doesn’t like the project, which is
completely within its editorial prerogative, and its coverage therefore
is tilted in that direction. I have no problem with a newspaper
adopting an editorial position and sticking with it. Indeed, I think
such an editorial strategy is what kept the National Post in business
while I was its Chairman, so I don’t take issue with the Sun’s
editorial choices at all.
Where I dissent from Sun Media is its focus on my sister Gail as the
demon of the museum project. Recently, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil
Liberties Association (UCCLA) redoubled its efforts to do the same
thing by launching a postcard campaign opposing further funding for the
museum. On the face of the postcard is a picture of my sister and Sun
Media gave play to the story.
Something needs to be said in order to correct this situation.
As most people know, my father conceived of the museum project. After
his death, my sister carried the torch in order to get the job
finished. My family has donated $22 million to the project, which is
unprecedented in Canadian history. No single business, family or
individual has ever made such a gift to any federal museum -- ever.
The project was led by the private sector and a total of over $130
million has been raised, which again is unprecedented in Canadian
history. No Canadian federal museum has ever received this kind of
support from private donors.
The federal government assumed ownership and operational control of the
museum more than five years ago, when it was formally designated as a
national institution under the Museums Act. The federal government and
its appointees are responsible for the project.
My sister is a member of the board of directors, but has no other role
with the museum itself. She volunteers and gives up most of her life to
fundraise in order to fill the gap between the amount of funding
promised by the federal government and the cost escalation that
occurred, as happens with many other projects of this scale.
But Gail is not in charge of the construction. Nor is she in charge of
the finishing, exhibits or management of the project. All of that
belongs to the federal government.
Demonizing her for the issues facing the museum is wrong and unfair.
Regardless of individual views about the validity of the museum, that
bridge has been crossed.
Opinions about the direction of the museum should focus on who can
actually affect that outcome -- the federal government -- and not my
One wonders about the legitimacy of advocates such as Lubomyr Luciuk
and the UCCLA when they target an individual who drove the project,
raised $130 million and then handed the project over to the federal
government. It is perverse Gail Asper has become the poster child for
Mr. Luciuk’s grievances in connection with the museum.
Criticism is fine. But it should also be rational and this ain’t.
— David Asper is chair of the board of the Asper Foundation
COMMENT by Lubomyr Luciuk:
Ms Asper has made herself the public spokesperson for the Friends of
the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and, in that role, has insinuated
that some of those opposing the project are somehow prejudiced. We
reject that smear. Our concern is rooted in the simple fact that
neither the board on which Ms Asper sits, nor the CEO of this museum,
have ever clarified precisely what the contents of this institution
will be, despite many requests.
The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (and in fact a
majority of Canadians) do not want any community's suffering elevated
above all others in this taxpayer funded national museum. UCCLA has
repeatedly said that we want all of the museum's galleries to be
thematic, comparative, and inclusive in their treatment of various
human rights issues and stories. Anyone wanting to resolve the ongoing
controversy about the CMHR need only tell us, once and for all, what
the contents of this museum are really going to be. Why won't they?
Responses to criticism should be on point. Mr Asper's isn't.
Dr L Y Luciuk