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Ukrainian News | 11Dec2014 | Lubomyr Luciuk

CMHR not an "ideas museum", but a mausoleum

I've been there and here's what I think.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was boosted as "Canada's Museum". It's not. Instead, it's a pretty shell whose appearance distracts from what's within, much like one of Winnipeg's courtesans of the curb, catching your eye, making you forget she's carrying the clap.

After following a path consecrated 'Israel Asper Way' you mount ramp after ramp in this hollow temple, clambering into the 'Israel Asper Tower of Hope'. From the cochleated appendage you get to look down on Winnipeg. It's somewhat better looking from up there than at ground level. What's down below ain't exactly the promised land.

The CMHR's core is all about elevating one community's suffering above all others. How the Holocaust got pride of place in a taxpayer-funded Canadian museum has been much debated. Perhaps, as The National Post's Jonathan Kay opined, there was an "Olympics of Genocide" and "the Jews got the Gold and the Ukrainians only a Bronze". Was there a competition? Or were these games fixed? As long as the umpires' identities are no more transparent than the building's alabaster ramps and opaque windows, we will never know.

But what is certain is that on 31 March 2008, Arni Thorsteinson, chair of the federal advisory committee, provided the Honourable Josée Verner, MP, then Minister of Canadian Heritage, with a rank ordering of the themes Canadians wanted in 'their' museum: Aboriginal (First Nations), 16.1%; Genocides, 14.8%; Women, 14.7%; Internments, 12.5%; War and Conflicts, 8.7%; Holocaust, 7%; Children, 5.9%; Sexual Orientation, 4.9%; Ethnic Minorities, 3.8%; Slavery, 2.9%; Immigration, 2.6%; Charter of Rights, 2.3%; Disabilities, 2% and Universal Declaration, 1.8%. The Holocaust wasn't anywhere near a top choice, simply because most Canadians already know about it. What the public wanted was something unique. And so they were promised an "ideas museum". What they got proved to be a caricature of a museum, a near-empty box whose conflated and often confusing messaging ranges from the juvenile to the trite of the tendentious, a Tower of Babel on the Prairies.

Some insist this project was orchestrated to get the public purse to pay, in perpetuity, for a Holocaust museum. Yet Bill-C42, the legislation that turned a once-private initiative into a publicly-funded museum, mandated no such outcome: "The purpose of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public's understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue." In the accompanying Commentary to the Legislative Summary there is only a one-line reference to including a Holocaust gallery. And, as Dr. Clint Curle, the CMHR's director of stakeholder relations, himself a historian and lawyer, confirmed (13 December 2012) even this Commentary "is not legally binding". More than a few forked tongues populate the lands around 'The Forks'.

Privately, some Ministers and many MPs, have long recognized that the CMHR was controversial and would remain divisive. So they stayed away, even from the "final opening" -- ineptly and inaptly scheduled for Remembrance Day, an affront to veterans. Oh, I know, so-and-so or him-and-her showed up. But who was not there divines the future far more accurately than who turned up for a canapé. As for the collaborators and kapos who did, their ilk soil every community -- and always end up in the dustbins of history.

Those who marketed prejudice over pedagogy are now dizzy with success, thinking they have lorded it over those who wanted all exhibits in the CMHR to be comparative, thematic, and inclusive. But those barkers are in for a surprise. This is, after all, a national museum. Whose tales it tells, and why, and how, will be reviewed. Eventually, the obvious partialities will be undone. Already the contrived applause crafted to herald its opening is fading. No matter how often the shills shout on about this being an "ideas museum", what Canadians actually got for our money is a mausoleum, bad enough for being a conceit, even worse for promoting the indefensible 'idea' that some victims are more worthy of memory than others.

Lubomyr Luciuk, PHD, visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on 07 December 2014.