An external investigation of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights concluded the federal institution suffers from a culture burdened by “pervasive and systemic” racism that has gone unaddressed by senior management for years.

Review of racism within museum unsurprising

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files						</p>																	<p>The Canadian Museum for Human Rights tops the list of tourism highlights in Manitoba.						</p>
John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights tops the list of tourism highlights in Manitoba.

Posted: 05/08/2020 7: 00 PM

There are many reasons to be concerned about Winnipeg lawyer Laurelle Harris’ damning external review of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. But hardly anyone, and that includes the museum’s leadership, should be shocked.

Pauline Rafferty, the CMHR board chair who is serving as interim president and CEO, called the findings of the Harris report “troubling,” “concerning” and “disturbing.” She did not use the word shocked, but she certainly intimated that as a long-time member of the senior management of the museum, she was somewhat taken aback.

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Interim president and chief executive officer Pauline Rafferty, who also serves as board chairwoman, apologized Wednesday, saying CMHR and its board have accepted the findings of the report authored by Winnipeg lawyer Laurelle Harris.

“(The Harris report) is troubling. It’s very concerning. It’s very disturbing,” Rafferty said in an interview. “I could go on, but we have accepted that.

“What I see is a huge opportunity for this organization to actually clearly recognize our shortcomings and implement good, anti-racist policies and procedures covering everything to do with the museum.”

The 72-page document, titled “Rebuilding the Foundation,” dives into the internal culture of the CMHR from 2014 — when the national museum first opened — until now.

Harris interviewed more than 25 current and former staff, including former CEO and president John Young, who resigned shortly after allegations of racist and discriminatory behaviour and attitudes among employees came to light in June.

The report found many staff were traumatized by instances of systemic racism, and suffered from eroded physical and emotional health.

Winnipeg artist Gabriella Aguero worked at the museum from 2017-19 as a tour guide and program developer. She left after months of what she called “bullying and abuse” by a manager.

Aguero said the report does a good job at confirming many of the concerns previously publicized by former employees, largely on social media, and by the group CMHR Stop Lying. A request for comment from CMHR Stop Lying was not returned Wednesday.

Download CMHR Phase One Report

Still, Aguero said, more needs to be said about how mostly white curatorial and exhibit staff ignored and disparaged racialized people, many of whom have experience with human rights abuses.

“Most of the curatorial staff have no idea what human rights are really about,” said Aguero, who came to Canada from Argentina in the mid-1980s after experiencing a military coup. “They mostly do not have any lived experiences in the issues that are being examined in the museum.”

Harris found evidence front-facing staff, in particular, were victims of sexism, heterosexism, transphobia and homophobia. There were also incidents of sexual harassment that “may not have been investigated or addressed adequately.”

The report also noted employees who identified as Black, Indigenous and people of colour said they were paid less than white employees and passed over for promotions and new positions in favour of white candidates.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“What I see is a huge opportunity for this organization to actually clearly recognize our shortcomings and implement good, anti-racist policies and procedures covering everything to do with the museum,” said Pauline Rafferty, acting president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Marianne Hladun, Prairie region executive vice-president with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said the Harris report only provides a small snapshot of organizational culture at the national museum.

“One of the things that we have said from the very beginning, is that while the CEO may be gone, a lot of the managers are still there,” Hladun said. “Right now, the feeling from many employees is that with those managers still there they do not feel that it is safe to bring issues forward.

“If they truly want an open culture and they want to make change, they need to take a look and make sure people in management positions are the right people to be there.”

Hladun noted the 44 recommendations made in the report look good on paper, but many staff remain skeptical such actions will be taken, and trust between staff and management has been broken.

“(The Harris report) is troubling. It’s very concerning. It’s very disturbing.” – Interim president and chief executive officer Pauline Rafferty

“If there is a desire to move down that path, employees need to be involved, the union needs to be involved,” she said, adding labour has been calling for anti-oppression training for all employees as part of ongoing collective bargaining.

The Harris report confirmed allegations LGBTTQ+ content was deliberately concealed or omitted from one group tour in 2015, and on six occasions in 2017.

Among the 44 recommendations, the report calls on the federal government to ensure diversity on the museum’s board of directors, including at least one Black person, one Indigenous person, and one person from the LGBTTQ+ community.

Branded

According to an external review made public Wednesday, staff at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights who persisted in efforts to address racism in the workplace were penalized, some being branded by management as “troublemakers,” “difficult” or “angry.”

— BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) employees reported being passed over repeatedly for promotion in favour of equally or less qualified white candidates. For example, one man of colour, who holds a master’s degree in law, teaches at two universities and speaks four languages, had never been promoted.

— One Black employee who started as a host (an entry-level position) prior to the opening of the museum reported she was paid $2/hr less than all but one other host for more than two years. When she discovered this and advised her manager, she was told she could have negotiated for more. With the help of a white colleague, she pursued the matter through human resources, and eventually received back pay.

According to an external review made public Wednesday, staff at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights who persisted in efforts to address racism in the workplace were penalized, some being branded by management as “troublemakers,” “difficult” or “angry.”

— BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) employees reported being passed over repeatedly for promotion in favour of equally or less qualified white candidates. For example, one man of colour, who holds a master’s degree in law, teaches at two universities and speaks four languages, had never been promoted.

— One Black employee who started as a host (an entry-level position) prior to the opening of the museum reported she was paid $2/hr less than all but one other host for more than two years. When she discovered this and advised her manager, she was told she could have negotiated for more. With the help of a white colleague, she pursued the matter through human resources, and eventually received back pay.

— More than one BIPOC employee reported differential enforcement of the dress code at the museum. In one instance, several Indigenous employees had each been given lanyards specially beaded for them and carried traditional knowledge in the pattern. One woman was singled out for breaching the dress code and was not permitted to wear her beaded lanyard (the museum issues a standard blue lanyard). When she lent the beaded lanyard to a white colleague to wear, the white colleague was permitted to do so. Another example: a Black employee was repeatedly and progressively disciplined for wearing the same dress pants as a number of white women she worked with.

— BIPOC program interpreters reported near-daily microaggressions and explicitly racist comments from the public on a regular basis, including while they were leading VIP, stakeholder and donor tours, without intervention from management when present.

— Concerns expressed with respect to hiring practices included: some racialized staff had applied for promotions repeatedly and in every instance a white person was hired for the position; there was a culture of favouritism within management; non-racialized staff engaged in social networking with persons in different levels of management and leveraged those connections to obtain promotions; official language requirements for certain positions were set unnecessarily high, resulting in otherwise qualified racialized candidates being screened out; an employee was advised there would be “trouble” if they gave a BIPOC former colleague a good reference.

— source: Canadian Museum for Human Rights external review

Harris also recommended Ottawa ensure that the next CEO be someone from the BIPOC community.

The CMHR is a Canadian Crown Corporation.

In a written statement to the Free Press, Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault said concrete actions have to be taken to address discriminatory practices and rebuild trust with employees and the public.

“It starts with targeting problematic behaviours, and requires a continuous questioning of individual and institutional biases,” Guilbeault said.

“Organizations, including governmental agencies, must now turn words into action. To that end, we are also looking into the report’s recommendations to the government and will have more to say once we have appointed a new CEO.”

According to the report, staff who tried to confront and change racist attitudes were discouraged, ignored or disparaged by senior management which, “does not appear to have sufficient knowledge of foundational concepts about racism.”

Harris wrote that in her interview with the former CEO, Young failed to “express any appreciation of the gravity of the concerns raised with respect to racism,” and didn’t acknowledge the validity of any claims and accepted no personal responsibility for the environment at the museum.

“The efforts of staff — racialized and non–racialized — to change the institution from within in the face of what was, and remains, pervasive institutional racism were generally unsuccessful.”

Mena Gainpaulsingh, CEO of the fundraising arm Friends of Canadian Museum for Human Rights, sent a letter to financial supporters Wednesday acknowledging, “This has been a difficult period for everyone and that the process of rebuilding trust with all those who have been hurt will be long and challenging.”

A request for an interview with Gainpaulsingh was not returned Wednesday. Calls to major financial supporters and sponsors of the museum were also not returned.

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said the MMF will continue to support the mission of the CMHR; the MMF is listed as a “champion” of the organization on the Friends of CMHR website.

Chartrand added the relationship between the MMF and CMHR was only recently mended, after the federation threatened to boycott the organization six years ago.

“There’s still that belief in my heart that it’s going to work… that’s what this museum is about, to continue to educate and educate until everybody gets a grip on it,” he said. “We’re patient and we have to work together on this.

“We should never give up on the human rights museum.”

— with files from Dan Lett

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Danielle Da Silva

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