‘Racism Is Pervasive’ at Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Report Says

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TORONTO — Black and Indigenous employees say they were disparaged. Female employees say they were sexually harassed. Guides say their managers instructed them to block off an exhibit on same-sex marriage during tours of religious schools.

All this has happened, critics say, at an unlikely place: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

In recent weeks, the museum has been engulfed by accusations of discrimination and harassment. And on Wednesday the museum released a report from an external review, which concluded that “racism is pervasive and systemic within the institution.”

For a museum devoted to documenting the history of human rights, the report was a stinging rebuke.

“This is a tainted place as far as I’m concerned,” said Barbara Nepinak, an elder of the Pine Creek First Nation who is a member of the Special Indigenous Advisory Council to the museum. “But it can be fixed and I strongly believe it will be fixed.”

“We’ve accepted the report’s findings in full and the recommendations in principle” she said. “The opportunity here is to make systemic changes but it will take time and it will be very hard work.”

Still, the review is the fourth in the institution’s short lifetime, making many people skeptical that systemic discrimination will be corrected, even at a place built to inspire visitors to combat it.

Even before the doors opened, though, the museum inspired protest and heated debate. Several curators and outside experts complained that exhibits had been politically neutered and so watered down as to become meaningless.

“It became an ethical cheerleading triumphalist narrative about Canada, forwarding the notion of Canada, the peacekeeping nation, as a leader in human rights,” said Elise Chenier, a history professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, who did not want to be identified by the museum as a creator of an exhibit on same-sex marriage in Canada, saying the institution had oversimplified the “debate in the queer community about marriage.”

The museum’s former curator of Indigenous content, Tricia Logan, wrote in a book that she had been “consistently reminded” to match any mention of state-perpetrated atrocity against Indigenous people with a “balanced statement that indicates reconciliation, apology or compensation provided by the government.”

“When there was a problem, management most likely wouldn’t do anything,” Ms. Pruden said.

Four former female staff members told The New York Times they had reported episodes of sexual harassment and, in one case, sexual assault to management. In all cases, they said managers’ first response was to question their accounts.

Wednesday’s report found that there “are indications that sexual harassment and stalking complaints made by Black women may not have been investigated or addressed adequately prior to the fall of 2016.”

Two of the institution’s previous external reviews addressed sexual harassment, said Ms. Fitzhenry, the museum spokeswoman. The third involved broader concerns by museum staff, she said, declining to offer more specifics.





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