Racism at Canadian Museum for Human Rights ‘pervasive and systemic’: independent review

By | August 5, 2020

WINNIPEG — The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg has made public a scathing interim report following an independent review which identified racism, heterosexism, and sexual harassment as issues within the institution.

The review, led by lawyer Laurelle Harris, was launched in mid-June after several current and former employees came forward with allegations of racism and oppression at the museum.

“Racism within the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is pervasive and systemic,” the interim report states. 

As part of the review, 25 interviews with current and former employees were conducted and written accounts submitted to the reviewers were also considered.

“The review team heard first-hand accounts of their experiences at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and the resulting trauma, physical, emotional and financial harm suffered,” reads a portion of the report. “Employment practices, policies, and actions of employees within the institution have contributed to maintaining racism as a system of inequality.”

“Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have been adversely impacted physically, emotionally and financially by their experiences within the institution.”

The report identified heterosexism as an issue throughout the institution, noting exhibits containing LGBTQ content had been omitted or hidden from school tours seven times.

Harris’s review also identified evidence of sexual harassment complaints made by Black women “may not have been investigated or addressed adequately prior to the fall of 2016.” The report says there are no indications sexual harassment investigations have not been conducted or have been conducted improperly from the fall of 2016 until now.

The museum’s previous CEO John Young stepped down after the allegations were made public.

The report identified several incidents of racism by other employees, managers, and members of the public. 

The report says an Indigenous woman who led the Mikinak-Keya tour forgot matches to smudge. When she asked a coworker for help, the coworker directed the woman to their locker to get a lighter.

“When the employee asked if there was a lock on it or if the worker wanted her to lock it up when she was finished with it, the worked replied ‘no, there’s no lock, there’s nothing in there for you to steal,’” the report states.

There were also concerns identified regarding employment and hiring practices. And the report identified an underrepresentation of Black Canadian content within the museum.

“The omissions from the Black Canadian narrative as they relate to human rights create a false impression that anti-Black racism is not embedded into the fabric of Canadian society,” the report states. 

The museum will be closed Wednesday and Thursday to allow staff to review the report and meet with Harris.

Pauline Rafferty, the head of CMHR’s board of directors and interim CEO, said it’s making immediate changes “to build an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory workplace.”

“It is clear many people have been adversely impacted by racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination within the museum, and we apologize unreservedly,” Rafferty said in a media release.

The report contains 44 recommendations. The board said it will immediately implement five of the recommendations. They include: 

  • Making sure at least one Black person, one Indigenous person and one person who identifies as LGBTQ2+ is on a recently-formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee;
  • Screening board policies to ensure they promote equity as defined in the report;
  • Making sure board trustees take part in mandatory anti-racist and anti-oppression training;
  • Setting goals for the CEO to promote a culture of equity, inclusion, and accountability within the museum; and,
  • Require the CEO to engage with Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ2+ communities, particularly with transgender, gender diverse and Two-Spirit communities.

The board also said it will review the museum’s five-year strategic plan with a priority on diversity and inclusion and metrics to measure progress.

The museum said it plans to launch mandatory sexual harassment training for all managers, staff, and volunteers in the coming weeks, which will have to be completed by the end of September.

There will be a second phase of the review which is aimed at doing a more comprehensive examination into issues of inclusion and equity at the museum.

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