(June 29, 2020) The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the latest Canadian charity to have to publicly address accusations of sexual harassment and racism. The museum says it is “centered around the idea that respect and understanding of human rights can service as a positive force for change in the world.”
Five women reported sexual harassment from a male colleague to human resources and recent Instagram posts from former employees allege management were aware of concerns about racism “for years.”
The same CBC story of June 25, 2020 reported allegations that the museum, headquartered in Winnipeg, forced staff to censor LGBGTQ+ displays by shielding the view of the content with their bodies.
CEO John Young said he will step down ahead of his planned re-appointment date at the end of August. Board chair Pauline Rafferty denies the board had full knowledge of the issues, telling the CBC that the “allegations were not properly brought to the attention of the board of trustees” and apologized “unreservedly.” The board has hired outside lawyers to investigate. Rafferty herself will act as interim CEO until a replacement can be found.
After years of controversy around Indigenous content and other matters, the national museum—the first outside of Ottawa, which required specific legislation, and a capital campaign largely led by the Asper family—opened in 2014.
Gail Asper who led that campaign said she was “very troubled” by the allegations.
Of the 11-member board of directors, one board member is Indigenous, and two board members are people of colour.
"Museums are some of the whitest institutions in the Western world. That's a problem because implicit bias and white privilege can seep into the way people's stories are told or not told,” Armando Perla, a curator and co-founder of the museum who left the CMHR in 2019 to work in Sweden, told the Winnipeg Free Press.
"I really hope there is a comprehensive study done on the lack of diversity at museums in Canada," said Perla. "For us to start addressing the issue, we need to know the magnitude of the issue."
Perla co-authored an article with Yasmin Ullah in the Museum Management and Curatorship journal in October 2019.
According to the article, there is an "alarming alarming lack of diversity” in the museum sector.
Perla’s and Ullah noted that, at the CMHR, of the 26 managerial and executive positions, just one was occupied by a person belonging to a visible minority.