By Sandra Dunham

For someone committed to social justice, a job offer from the Museum of Human Rights must seem like a dream come true. However, recently we are discovering that the dream job might not have turned out as planned.

First, we were stunned to learn that the museum hid the LGBTQ display from children, when this request was made by religious schools. Later we were even more astonished to find that complaints of sexual harassment were discounted and ignored. While the resignation of CEO John Young is a good first step toward righting these wrongs, one must ask whether it is enough. Where is the accountability of the trustees in these matters?

The mandate of the museum is “to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.” It appears, however, that the museum is willing to “enhance the public’s understanding” of only the human rights that the public supports and is prepared to skip the rights that do not correspond with the beliefs of specific visitors or staff members. It is inconceivable that a museum dedicated to protecting human rights so easily ignored the rights of the LGBTQ population and the rights of female staff exposed to sexual harassment.

The appointment of board chair Pauline Raffety appears to be another step in the wrong direction. Raffety excuses the board from responsibility for oversight, stating that “the allegations were not properly brought to the attention of the board of trustees.” Trustees have a responsibility for oversight. The correct response from a truly contrite board would be an acknowledgement of their failure to ensure that the mission and values of the organization were reflected in the work of staff.

One of the museum’s values is to be “A credible and balanced learning resource.” Can it ever hope to regain the credibility it has lost in these events? How does the action of this one Canadian Institution reflect on Canada, in the eyes of the world?

CFIC will continue to monitor this situation with the hopes that the museum can correct past wrongs, rebuild lost trust, and help all Canadians to value the diversity that makes this country strong. We hope that all employees and volunteers of the museum can work safely and be a part of this important Canadian institution.