‘Complete hypocrisy’: Human rights museum employees say they experienced racism at work

By | June 11, 2020

WINNIPEG — The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is launching an external review into allegations of racism and discrimination made by staff members.

Current and former employees have been sharing their experiences on social media.

Museum leadership is promising to take action, but the union representing museum workers said the response so far has fallen short.

“If they truly want to be an example on how human rights should be addressed they need to listen to the staff but it’s not enough anymore to say we’re working on it,” said Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents more than 100 CMHR employees. “I think folks need to see a concrete plan.”

In social media posts, people say they experienced many forms of racism from colleagues, visitors and donors. When they raised the issues with management, some say nothing was done about it.

These are issues their union says they’ve been dealing with for years.

“What you may see in the front of the hall is not necessarily the same view that we’re seeing in the back,” said Hladun. “It’s complete hypocrisy for them to experience the things that they are trying to profile as human rights violations across the world.”

In social media posts, people say they’ve been verbally attacked by visitors and forced to act as tokens of diversity at the museum.

They shared their stories, using the hashtag #cmhrstoplying.

The museum’s president and CEO John Young said he’s aware of the comments and concerns that have been raised and was asked why they’re only being addressed now.

“They’re coming out now, we’re addressing them now and I think the challenge is — what are we doing now,” said Young during an interview with CTV News.

He said the museum will hire an external person to review and listen to people’s personal experiences and conduct an external review of workplace practices and policies around diversity, respect, anti-racism and non-discrimination.

“We’ve started developing a plan, a specific plan working with staff, working with external partners to better understand the full depth of these concerns and to find effective ways to address them,” said Young.

In a message shared through the museum’s social media accounts, Young said as an institution dedicated to human rights, the CMHR seeks to amplify voices to break the silence on racism and that when issues are raised about its own practices, it must listen and take action.

Thiané Diop, one of the organizers of the social media campaign which brought the issues to light, took to Facebook after hearing Young’s response to people’s concerns.

“Black employees have been bringing forward these issues to every level of management since the opening of the museum,” reads a portion of the post. “Management staff chose time and time again to silence Black employees and push them out of their jobs.”

Young said he’s met staff members since the concerns were brought up and will continue to meet with anyone who’s willing to share their personal experiences.

According to the CMHR’s latest workforce analysis, which is from the end of 2018, 18 per cent of its employees self-identified as members of visible minorities. Twelve per cent were Indigenous. The museum said four members of its management team identify as members of visible minorities.

Young said they’re actively pursuing new hires to help the museum find greater representation and diversity among staff. 

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