Skip to main content

People gather in solidarity with the George Floyd protests across the United States at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg on June 5, 2020.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

More executives at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights need to follow the CEO out the door because of how they handled systemic racism and sexual harassment complaints, says the union representing the museum’s workers.

The Winnipeg museum’s board of trustees announced Thursday night that president and chief executive John Young was stepping down immediately after former employees went public with stories of racism, workplace harassment and systemic discrimination.

Board chair Pauline Rafferty said the board of trustees had not been made aware of the concerns until recently, but that they intended “to rebuild relationships and trust with our staff and those we have let down, especially the Black and Indigenous communities, people of colour and LGBTQ2+ communities.”

The board said it has hired an external investigator to look into the allegations. An interim report is expected by July 31. The board has also formed a diversity and inclusion committee.

Ms. Rafferty is serving as interim president until a new one is selected.

The employees’ concerns became public after the museum shared social-media posts about Black Lives Matter earlier this month. Current and former employees said the posts were hypocritical.

“Black employees have been bringing forward these issues to every level of management since the opening of the museum,” Thiané Diop, a former museum program interpreter, said on her Facebook page.

“You have had ample opportunity to do better, but you and your management staff chose time and time again to silence Black employees and push them out of their jobs.”

The museum also apologized after last week’s CBC Manitoba report that it had censored LGBTQ+ content, such as information about same-sex marriage, at the request of some school tours.

Marianne Hladun, an executive at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents workers at the museum, said they feel the resignation of the CEO is a “good first step,” but that further changes are needed in the institution’s leadership.

“We’re hoping that they recognize there is a systemic problem in the institution,” Ms. Hladun said.

She said the museum’s mandate – human rights – attracted professionals who cared deeply about the issue, but were often disappointed by what they found in the workplace. Many of those workers chose to leave, she said, when their complaints went unaddressed.

Gabriela Aguero, a former program developer and guide at the museum, said she left because of workplace bullying. She said managers who had sexual-harassment complaints against them or those behind the censorship of LGBTQ+ displays still received promotions.

“Dedicated human-rights workers applied to work at this museum believing that they could change the world,” Ms. Aguero said. “The opposite was true. We owe it to them to make these drastic management changes.”

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which opened its doors in 2014, is one of the country’s nine national museums. The institution was set to receive $25-million from the federal government in the current fiscal year, according to the 2020-21 Main Estimates. The director and board are appointed with the approval of the federal cabinet.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement that he is watching the situation with concern.

“We have confidence in the actions taken by the Board of Trustees to rebuild trust with the public and to ensure a healthier, harassment-free workplace and learning environment for everyone,” Mr. Guilbeault said in the statement.

The minister’s office said that the museum’s funding terms include a commitment to ensuring the workplace is free of discrimination. However, the office would not say if the government might withhold federal money if the concerns of systemic racism are not addressed.

The Globe has five brand-new arts and lifestyle newsletters: Health & Wellness, Parenting & Relationships, Sightseer, Nestruck on Theatre and What to Watch. Sign up today.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct