The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) has again come under fire in the media, this time due to accusations by historian Veronica Strong-Boag that the organization engaged in censorship when it removed a commissioned blog post she had written criticizing the Conservative government.
In the original post, titled “International Women’s Day (IWD) and Human Rights 2014,” Strong-Boag detailed the history of IWD from its inception to the current day.
Strong-Boag—whose primary research interests include the history of education, gender studies, and children and youth—wrote in the post in question about the perceived “anti-woman record” of the Canadian government, citing the termination of plans for a national child-care program, defunding to Status of Women Canada, civil servants being prohibited from “taking pay equity complaints” to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the lack of funding for international abortion, and funding cuts to public services that employ and provide assistance to women.
The post was live on the blog for several hours before CMHR staff removed it.
Angela Cassie, director of communications at the CMHR, wrote to Strong-Boag expressing her apologies for the confusion, and stating that “CMHR blogs are intended to consist of interesting short stories on human rights themes and topics, ideally from a first-person perspective, written primarily by CMHR staff as an opportunity to showcase the depth and diversity of their work and experiences.”
She further explained that what the CMHR had intended for the blog was “anecdotal accounts of first-person experiences that illuminate human rights themes, and that they include ‘rich media’ relevant to the story (photos, images),” and that “guest blogs [should] not be used as, or be perceived as, a platform for political positions or partisan statements.”
Strong-Boag responded, arguing that such limitations were “both naive and pedagogically unsound for a museum supposedly dedicated to (the promotion of) human rights.”
“It suggests,” wrote the historian, “that human rights are almost purely about entertainment and that authors can pretend impartiality in dealing with them [ . . . ] museums and institutions of public memory are not normally intended to imitate Disneyland but to provide serious, although engaging and accessible, observations on the world.”
This is not the first time CMHR content has faced criticism. Aboriginal groups have expressed anger that the crimes committed in the past against them will not be labelled as genocide. Disagreements persist over how much space should be allocated to different historical atrocities.
The initial proposal of having a permanent, separate exhibit devoted to the Holocaust raised the ire of other groups who wanted all genocides to be grouped together in one exhibit room.
Ukrainian interest groups have been advocating for separate exhibits for both the Holodomor—the genocide of Ukrainians under Stalin—and the mass Ukrainian internment by the Canadian government during WWI.
The museum, which is scheduled to open this fall, has also seen the departure of a number of its staff, some of whom have claimed that the museum’s content is being softened to reflect a more positive Canadian history. The museum has denied these claims.
Such problems have led some to believe that the CMHR is tied too closely to the federal government, from which a significant portion of its funding comes.
In her correspondence with Cassie, Strong-Boag stated that Cassie’s “attempt at an explanation for censorship suggests the museum needs to engage in some serious self-reflection about its mandate and its apparent subordination to political masters.”
Despite Strong-Hoag’s allegations, Ken McDonald, a retired lawyer, maintains that the museum has done nothing legally wrong.
“What’s important to remember in this particular case is the context of the situation. The blog is the museum’s and they are allowed to put what they want on it. Whatever your personal opinion is of the government’s policies—whether you think they’re anti-women or not—the museum is allowed to refuse to broadcast your opinion. You can go get your own blog,” said McDonald.
“I think that the kind of discussion that [Strong-Boag] was trying to instigate is an interesting one, but given where the museum gets its funding, and the fact that it’s a public place that already gets a lot of attention for showing a lot of governments at their worst [ . . . ] it’s not really that surprising that they didn’t want to have that discussion on their website.”