“Widespread and Systemic” Racism at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Report Says

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A damning external review of complaints filed by former and current employees revealed “pervasive and systemic” racism and a toxic culture at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights – which the board chair and interim CEO apologize for and promise to change.“The report is disturbing. It is worrying. It exposes all the worst things, ”said Pauline Rafferty, chair of the museum’s board and interim CEO on Tuesday.

Rafferty is the former CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum and took over the operation of the CMHR after John Young resigned as CEO in June.

The board is seizing this as an opportunity to change policies, practices and processes and Rafferty promises to do so publicly, “in the most transparent way possible so that people can really see what we’re doing and they can tell us. hold accountable. ”

“We must apologize wholeheartedly. People have been injured, ”she said. “We have shown that we have not been a workplace that respects the ideals of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. ”

WATCH | The museum’s acting CEO responds to the report:

Board Chair and Interim CEO Pauline Rafferty describes how she felt when she read the Interim Report on Racism and Oppression at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 2:24

Dozens of people came forward with allegations of racism, discrimination, homophobia and sexual harassment and assault, shortly after a peaceful protest in favor of Black Lives Matter on June 5.

The rally ended at the CMHR, which posted photos and expressions of support on social media and positioned itself as an ally.

Current and former employees started social media campaign, #CMHRStopLying.

Subsequent articles reported exclusively by CBC News also exposed the museum’s censorship of LGBTQ content at the behest of religious school groups, VIPs and donors, as late as 2017, and raised questions about the harassment complaints. sex that have not been taken seriously.

Then-CEO Young apologized – but “an apology that made no mention of racism was offensive to many racialized people,” says the Phase 1 report, written by Laurelle Harris, a mediator, Winnipeg arbitrator and lawyer specializing in women and women. Black studies.

Harris likened Young’s initial statement to another excuse he made after the CBC News articles aired, in which he said censoring gay content was “deep betrayal.”

“Racism at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is pervasive and systemic,” Harris wrote.

“The employment practices, policies and actions of employees within the institution have helped to maintain racism as a system of equality. Blacks, Aboriginal people and people of color have been affected physically, emotionally and financially by their experiences within the institution.

In her report, mediator Laurelle Harris made 44 recommendations for change, but says much more work is needed to address issues of inclusion and equity at the museum. (Laurelle Harris)

The report gives examples of black or indigenous people who have been left behind for a job, despite being as skilled or more skilled than the white person ultimately hired.

He takes the museum to task not to provide in-house training on anti-racism, anti-oppression, unconscious prejudice and cultural competence.

Some of the museum’s content is also criticized for a “pervasive denial of anti-darkness in Canada”. In addition, the report says it is insulting to have native tours and programs provided by non-natives.

Harris noted that employees are often the targets of racism and discrimination from visitors and VIPs, but they lack the support of management.

She also investigated whether complaints of sexual harassment were properly investigated and followed up.

Harris made 44 recommendations to the federal government, the museum’s board and management, ranging from training and hiring practices to content and interactions with the public.

Rafferty said the board accepts the report and will immediately implement five of the recommendations:

  • The diversity and inclusion committee will require no less than a black, an aboriginal and a person who identifies as LGBTQ2 +.
  • All current and future board policies will be subject to a bias analysis.
  • All council members will receive ongoing training against racism and oppression.
  • The board will set goals for the new CEO to promote a culture of fairness, inclusion and accountability.
  • The new CEO will need to forge meaningful relationships with Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ2 + communities.

The council has also committed at least $ 250,000, or 1% of its budget, for anti-racism, unconscious bias, sexual harassment and cultural skills training.

Julie Jai is leading the new diversity and inclusion committee of the CMHR board, which she says will hold the museum accountable for following up on the recommendations of the phase one report. (Aaron Cohen / CMHR)

It will review all remaining recommendations and examine gaps in the content of the museum.

The board has already established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Julie Jai, former member of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and former legal counsel to the federal, Ontario and Yukon governments.

The role of the committee is to be a point of contact between employees and the board, to advocate for their concerns and to ensure the accountability of the museum, Jai said in an interview in Whitehorse.

“Shocked” by the allegations

Jai and Rafferty both say they were unaware of what was going on at the museum and were shocked and surprised when the stories surfaced.

“We really needed to ask better questions about what was going on within the organization and so that’s what we’re going to do from here on out,” Jai said.

After the museum opened, the board focused on building community and international relationships, but Rafferty said this should not have happened to the detriment of employees and internal culture.

She was particularly shaken by stories of content censorship – something antithetical to the promotion of human rights.

“It would be fair to say that a lot of self-reflection has gone into my role, the role of the board and what we haven’t asked questions about,” Rafferty said.

“Hearing and seeing things are very different”

This is not enough for two former employees who launched the campaign on social media.

Thiane ‘Diop experienced anti-black racism from other staff and visitors when working as a tour guide at the museum. She doesn’t have much hope that the report will change anything.

“Hearing and seeing things is very different,” said Diop.

“That trust won’t come back to me until I see a difference in behavior and the way things are handled internally, because from what I hear, even since we started the hashtag, l he environment has become more hostile. , Not less. ”

Diop worked with Julie White, an Anishinaabe and Métis woman who learned the sacred teachings of the elders and gave special presentations at the museum.

“They wanted to censor me from the start. They wanted to censor all of us – anyone who identifies as black, native, a person of color, ”White said. “They expected us indigenous peoples to tell visitors that there had been no genocide here.”

White believed in the museum’s mission and felt it had an important role to play in educating visitors. She believes her contract was not renewed because she refused to be an employee of the CMHR first, and then an Aboriginal person.

Thiane ‘Diop, left, and Julie White are former CMHR staff who launched the #CMHRStopLying social media campaign. They say they don’t have much hope that museum administration will follow the report’s 44 recommendations. (Justin Fraser / CBC News)

White and Diop both say they have not been contacted by the museum, although their social media campaign has drawn external scrutiny.

“If they plan to go ahead and solve all of these issues without even having a conversation with us or having the space to include us in those conversations and pay us for our time as well, it shows that they aren’t really ready to take real action, ”White said.

“The least the museum can do is act on these 44 recommendations. It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. From someone who’s been there and knows how much work really needs to be done. “

Find a new CEO

The federal government is currently looking for a new CEO to replace Young.

Now that she has a better understanding of how the museum is run, Rafferty said she intends to ask this person to act on the report and his recommendation.

“It was very difficult to listen to the experiences of the staff, some of the staff, and they were very frank in their discussions. They were frank. They were moving. And some of them were very difficult conversations. But the fact that the staff are ready to share this, ready to sit in a room and tell their story… makes me believe that the staff are ready to give us a chance to make the necessary changes, ”he said. she declared.

The second phase of the external review will begin shortly and will focus on issues of inclusion and equity.

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