It wasn’t easy trying to decipher what we were being told at an over-two-hour presentation by various individuals associated with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights Tuesday afternoon, December 6, 2011.
The event, which was labeled “the first annual public meeting of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights”, was held at the Planetarium Auditorium in the Manitoba Museum of Nature.
Although various speakers, including Stu Murray, CEO of the CMHR, expounded at length upon various topics, there was not very much new divulged at the meeting itself.
Murray did state that $130 million has been raised by private sources for the funding of the construction of the museum, but he did not go on to state the fact that still leaves the museum some $20 million short of its needed fund-raising goal.
It wasn’t until after the formal meeting was over, however, that perhaps the most important piece of information regarding the new museum was divulged by CMHR Director of Communication Angela Cassie.
During a one-on-one interview that I held with her, Cassie revealed that the museum will not officially open its doors to the public until 2014. Even though the actual physical construction of the museum is set to be completed in 2012, work on the content of the museum will not be complete until more than two years from now. (Considering that the CMHR was supposed to have been opened this year, the much later opening date represents a considerable delay -- strange that wasn’t even broached during the earlier two-hour presentation.)
Angela Cassie did, however, touch upon the most controversial aspect of the new museum during the public meeting when she described in general terms the gallery set-up for the $310 million project.
Cassie said that there will be several “clusters’ of galleries. The first cluster will include: a “welcoming gallery”; the second gallery in this cluster will offer an “introduction to human rights”, featuring a “human rights timeline”, including the “drafting of the universal declaration of human rights”; and the third gallery in this cluster will focus on “Canada’s human rights history”, focusing on “indigenous rights” and “Canada’s human rights journey”, noting Canadian “violations of human rights” , such as the imposition of the “Chinese head tax”, and various internments of specific ethnic groups. Finally there will be a gallery within this cluster devoted to the “current challenge”, examining contemporary legal challenges in Canada in the area of human rights.
The second cluster of galleries -- and it is here that the CMHR has come in for the most criticism from various groups -- has to do with the Holocaust and other modern genocides.
According to Cassie, again there will be three galleries within this cluster. The first, she said, will be the “examining the Holocaust” gallery. Within this gallery, “how a society collapsed into genocide” will be addressed. Cassie noted the fact that “Canada’s reserve system was seen as a model” by some of the individuals who planned the eventual genocide of European Jewry.
There will be a “thematic approach” in this gallery, Cassie explained. Also to be included in the gallery will be some attention paid to the “Armenian genocide” and the “Holodomor” (the Ukrainian genocide perpetrated by Joseph Stalin, although to what extent the Holodomor can be seen as a deliberate genocide aimed at the Ukrainian people is a matter of debate. Some historians argue that the Ukrainians were simply the largest group to suffer among a number of different ethnic groups that fell victim to Stalinist policies of forced collectivization. Interestingly, there has been no mention throughout the controversy surrounding the amount of attention that is to be paid to the Holocaust to the Chinese Great Leap Forward from 1958-61. That experiment by Mao Tse Dung in social engineering led to the deaths from 16-42 million Chinese -- depending on which figure you prefer to accept. No matter what, many more Chinese died than either Jews during the Holocaust or Ukrainians during the Holodomor . One wonders whether, if there were a powerful Chinese lobby pushing for more attention to this episode in history that the CMHR would have yet another squabble on its hands with which to deal.)
Cassie went into some more detail during my interview with her how the Holocaust gallery will “examine Rafael Lemkin’s ‘stages of genocide’. (Rafael Lemkin was a Jewish lawyer who lived in Poland who coined the term “genocide”.) According to Cassie, Lemkin incorporated such events as the Armenian genocide in his study of how Hitler came to arrive at his idea of exterminating the Jews, along with the concept of using “food” as a weapon, which was a major aspect of the Holodomor. As such, including the Armenian genocide and the Holodomor in an examination of the Holocaust will provide some context as to the background to the Holocaust. (Whether Jews and Ukrainians will be satisfied with what has obviously become a compromise approach to the Holocaust remains to be seen.)
I pressed Cassie on another aspect of the Holocaust gallery that has been the source of some controversy, and that is the extent to which Christian anti-Semitism laid the groundwork for the Holocaust.
Cassie gave this answer: “Definitely anti-Semitism needs to be an element that we examine within the Holocaust.” She went on to say that there will be attention paid to what papers in Canada were saying about “what was going on in Germany.”
[W.Z. “Definitely UKRAINOPHOBIA needs to be an element when we examine the Holocaust INDUSTRY.”]
I said: “Okay, that’s the Canadian context, but is there any thought given to expanding it to try and give some historical reference to anti-Semitism?”
Cassie replied that she wanted to check with the “researcher” [Name?] who is working on that because she didn’t want to “misrepresent” anything that might be part of what the museum will be doing. (So the “Black Rod”, a well-known blogger and critic of the CMHR, can rest easy -- there is no evidence that the CMHR is going to be looking at all at Christian anti-Semitism and its relationship to the Holocaust.)
(I suggested to Cassie that the most recent incarnation of the CMHR is quite a bit different from the idea first espoused by Izzy Asper in 2003, but Cassie admitted that she was not familiar with that concept. Just to provide some background: When Asper first came forward with his dream of a human rights museum, he envisioned an 180,000 square foot museum, with the Holocaust gallery occupying some 20,000 square feet of that. It is apparent that the Holocaust component has been much reduced. I offer no comment whether that is as it should or should not be.)
Finally, to return to the annual public meeting -- which was what this article was supposed to be about -- connected to the “examining the Holocaust” gallery will be two other galleries: “a whole lot of hard work”, and “breaking the silence”. Within the “breaking the silence” gallery, five genocides will be examined: The Holocaust, Holodomor, Armenian genocide, Rwanda, and Srebrenica (Bosnia).
A third cluster of galleries will examine “current human rights issues”, according to Cassie, focusing on such modern day trends in human rights legislation as “women’s rights”, “gay rights”, the rights of the “disabled”, and “children’s rights”. Attention will be focused on “poverty” as a key element in human rights, along with the “defenders” of human rights.
The final gallery in this cluster will be known as “take action”, and will encourage attendees to leave the museum with a motivation to do just that.
[W.Z. As the "Communications Director", Angela Cassie does not seem to be particularly knowledgeable about human rights, crimes against humanity and even genocides. She simply appears to be a mouthpiece for the "behind the scenes" power brokers presently manipulating the contents of the CMHR to the detriment of Canadians and humanity.]
Following the remarks made by Cassie and others, there was a short question and answer period, highlighted by one woman’s berating the museum planners over what she perceived to be an unfair attack on Germans and their role in the Second World War.
She punctuated her remarks several times with the question: “What is the capitol of Israel?”
Methinks we’re still in for a little bit of controversy once we actually see what’s going to be in this museum. Given that the actual opening date is still so far in the future, there’s probably going to be a lot more conjecture than hard fact for quite a while to come.