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Canadian Museum for Human Rights rife with systemic racism, sexism, homophobia: report

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An independent review into reports of workplace discrimination at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has found “pervasive and systemic” racism at the national museum in Winnipeg. Malika Karim reports

An independent review into reports of workplace discrimination at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has found “pervasive and systemic” racism at the national museum in Winnipeg, and says the museum is rife with sexism, heterosexism and homophobia.

The 72-page report released Wednesday stems from a review ordered in June following a social media campaign where Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ2 current and former employees shared stories of racism, discrimination and censorship at the museum.

Read more: Winnipeg’s embattled Canadian Museum for Human Rights has history of controversy

After the museum posted images of a Justice for Black Lives rally in June, stories from employees were posted online by a group called CMHR Stop Lying. Current and former employees responded that it was hypocritical of the museum to bring up the Black Lives rally because of racism they faced at work.

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Employees also wrote about having to censor displays about LGBTQ history at the request of some school groups who visited the museum.

The report, titled Rebuilding the Foundation, confirmed many of the allegations made by the current and former employees.

It found “heterosexism is present throughout the institution” and confirmed that displays about LGBTQ2 history were omitted from tours at the request of school groups several times between 2015 and 2017.

“There are indications of homophobic conduct that require further examination,” reads the report.

Click to play video 'Justice 4 Black Lives – march to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' Justice 4 Black Lives – march to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Justice 4 Black Lives – march to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The review included interviews and written accounts from 25 current and former employees and found sexual harassment complaints were poorly documented or not documented at all, and says sexual harassment complaints made specifically by Black women “may not have been addressed adequately.”

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Read more: Canadian Museum for Human Rights under fire after allegations of racism, discrimination surface

“Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have been adversely impacted physically, emotionally and financially by their experiences within the institution,” the report reads.

“Employment practices, policies, and actions of employees within the institution have contributed to maintaining racism as a system of inequality.”

‘Cultural schism’

The report said staff who worked directly with the public were extremely diverse. But the vast majority of management was white and heterosexual and that created a “cultural schism,” with upper level managers less attuned to the impact of race, sex and gender identity.

Many staff members reported that “there was a tendency on the part of management to treat the museum as a profit-oriented corporation having its primary focus on revenue generation to the exclusion of organizational health and the fulfilment of its mandate,” the report said.

It said some employees indicated Black, Indigenous and other people of colour were passed over repeatedly for promotions. There were also examples of microaggressions and differential enforcement of the museum’s dress code.

People gather in solidarity with the George Floyd protests across the United States at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Friday, June 5, 2020.
People gather in solidarity with the George Floyd protests across the United States at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Friday, June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

There was also an issue of employees of colour facing racism from the public.

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“One program interpreter described being laughed at by visitors while singing a traditional song on the hand drum,” the report said. “Another visitor asked for the program interpreter’s name so that she could ‘pray’ for her.”

Read more: CMHR CEO stepping down immediately after allegations of racism, discrimination at museum

No action was taken when racism from visitors was reported. When issues were raised, some employees said their employment was threatened.

The original complaints forced the resignation of CEO John Young, who last month announced he wouldn’t seek reappointment following the end of his five-year term on Aug. 14.

Interim CEO appologizes

In a release Wednesday, museum board chair and interim CEO Pauline Rafferty said the review’s findings make it clear “many people have been adversely impacted by racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination within the Museum.”

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I apologize that it took a public crisis for the organization to seriously reflect on the issues of systemic racism, homophobia and other forms of oppression,” Rafferty said.

Read more: Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO to leave after employees hid LGBTQ2 content

“We need to focus our attention on our hiring practices, our policies and our workplace culture. We will recommit ourselves to the values upon which the Museum was founded, of human dignity and respect, and make this a priority. How we work will be as important as the work itself.”

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights responds to graffiti at entrance

The museum will be closed Wednesday and Thursday this week so staff can “receive and reflect on the review” and meet with the review’s lead, Winnipeg-based lawyer and mediator, Laurelle Harris.

Read more: ‘Racism is real’ — Winnipeg mayor addresses George Floyd protests in U.S., Canada

The report includes 44 recommendations, and Rafferty said the board will take action to implement five recommendations immediately, including:

  • Diversity and inclusion committee to require not fewer than one Black person, one Indigenous person and one person who identifies as LGTBQ2 at all times, in addition to members of additional equity groups.
  • All board policies approved to date and future board policies will undergo a thorough analysis to screen for bias, and to ensure that board policies promote and support equity.
  • All members of the board of trustees engage in ongoing anti-racist and anti-oppression education, both by way of self-learning and through scheduled training sessions.
  • The board of trustees set goals for the chief executive officer to promote a culture of equity, inclusion and accountability within the museum.
  • The board of trustees require the chief executive officer to engage in meaningful community relations with Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ2 communities, and to ensure meaningful community relations with transgender/gender diverse and two-spirit communities in particular.

Read the full report:

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The board says changes include a review of the museum’s five-year strategic plan, mandatory sexual harassment training, the creation of a new senior role in diversity and inclusion, and the launch of a second external review expanding on the findings of the first review and providing a “framework for long-term action.”

Read more: Canadian Museum for Human Rights closing to allow review of racism report

“We will create and implement policies and procedures that cover all aspects of the Museum’s work,” said Julie Jai, who leads the museum’s recently formed diversity and inclusion committee.

“We have an opportunity to transform the Museum into a workplace that practices anti-racism and rejects all forms of oppression, including sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia. With sustained effort, the Museum will emerge much stronger for it.”

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–With files from The Canadian Press

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights reopening