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Ukrainian Canadian Congress campaigns for inclusion in human rights museum

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has started a postcard campaign to try to persuade Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore to set up a new advisory committee to determine the content of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

The postcard is the latest gambit in a UCC campaign to secure substantial and permanent exhibition space in the CMHR for both the Holodomor, the genocidal famine that occurred in Soviet-occupied Ukraine in 1932-33, and the internment of 6,000 Ukrainian immigrants in Canada during the First World War as part of the first imposition of the War Measures Act.

The UCC is upset that a report published in September by a 17-member CMHR content advisory committee grants permanent gallery space to only the Holocaust and Canada's aboriginal peoples. The congress wants the CMHR, scheduled to open in 2013 as the first federally funded national museum outside the Ottawa region, to honour the terms of an April 2003 letter to the UCC from Moe Levy, executive director of the Asper Foundation, progenitor of the CMHR.

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In the letter, Levy agrees, in exchange for UCC support of the human rights concept, that the Ukrainian genocide "will be featured clearly, distinctly and permanently" in the museum, while adding that "the intent of the museum is not to single out any one group but to portray the human costs when human rights are abused." Levy also agrees that the internment of Ukrainian Canadians "should be included."

The postcard prepared by the UCC -- its front features a photograph of Ukrainians behind a barbed-wire fence, along with the exhortation "This Time We Want In!" -- keys entirely on the internment issue. Supporters are asked to sign the back of the postcard -- it calls for a content committee that is "truly representative of the Canadian population, inclusive, fair-minded and non -partisan" -- and mail it to the Heritage minister in Ottawa.

On Dec. 18 representatives of the UCC, the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Enthnocultural Council met in Toronto with five members of the CMHR, including museum president/CEO Stuart Murray. At the meeting, the CMHR reiterated its position that the advisory committee report, while important, is not definitive. And while the museum's content will be contained in 12 "zones," including two dedicated to the Holocaust and aboriginal issues, the content of these exhibits is not yet fixed.

Indeed, according to CMHR director of communications Angela Cassie, it's anticipated the Holocaust zone will deal not just with Jewish persecution but also with the sufferings of "the Roma, persons with physical and mental disabilities, gay men, lesbians . . . among other communities." The "memorial-type nature of previous treatments of both the Holocaust and some other genocides," she said, "is not the approach being taken [by the CMHR]. . . Looking through the human rights lens is meant to convey a very strong emotion that we need to remain vigilant . . . [that]we need to understand how they occur."

A follow-up meeting involving Ukrainian Canadians and the CMHR is expected to be held in Winnipeg in mid to late January. However, Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, thinks Minister Moore and the CMHR should ignore any calls for a new advisory committee. "What a waste of time and money that would be," he said this week. The original advisory committee took "an extensive cross-country consultation process . . . Just because one or two communities didn't get exactly what they demanded doesn't mean you start from the beginning and recreate it. This was a very well done committee . . . "

Lubomyr Luciuk, head of the Ukrainian civil liberties association Canadian, said if it's true that the CMHR "can't tell the whole story" of every mass atrocity within its walls, perhaps the museum should consider thematic galleries. "Why not have a gallery called 'Canadian Internment Operations' that deals with Ukrainians and others during the First World War, Germans, Italians and Japanese during the Second, the Quebecois in 1970? Why don't you deal with genocides, compare them? Genocides in Europe, Africa and Asia, the crimes of Communism as well as fascism."

In the meantime, another organization, the German-Canadian Congress, has also decided it's "alarmed and concerned" about the CMHR's dedication of permanent galleries to Holocaust and Canadian aboriginal issues. In a statement issued last week, Congress president Tony Bergmeier calls on the CMHR to be "inclusive and equitable in its treatment . . . No suffering by one group can be more important than the suffering of others." Bergmeier goes on to assert that the CMHR's displays, research and publications "should be more heavily founded [sic]towards lesser known human rights abuses and genocides."

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However, in a letter this week to Bergmeier expressing "profound dismay" at the German-Canadian position, the CJC's Farber argues the CMHR "makes no sense" without a permanent Holocaust exhibition. The Holocaust was "unprecedented in its scope and dimensions," he writes, in that it thrust the concept of genocide into the consciousness of the modern world while serving as the wellspring for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Said Farber: "We would have expected a greater sensitivity to the issue of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration in Canada from the GCC."

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