In 2009, construction began in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Initially scheduled to open in 2013, opening ceremonies took place on 19 September 2014, though a number of galleries remained closed. A unique venture, the museum is designed to examine the universal issue of human rights, with special focus on human rights within a Canadian context. Its goal is "to enhance the public 's understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue."
The museum was originally conceived by media magnate Israel (Izzy) Asper, who established a foundation in 2003 to create the museum, and was brought to fruition through the efforts of members of the Asper family along with many other involved individuals. The central concept of the museum is the idea of an institution that will promote human rightsawareness through innovative teaching initiatives. Prominent among these will be the creation of a national student travel program that will bring over 20,000 students a year to the museum.
The choice of Winnipeg for the museum's location is significant. Winnipeg has played a role in several important historical events, such as the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, that have affected the evolution of the Canadian civil rights movement, particularly in relation to the advancement of the rights of Aboriginal peoples, women, French speakers and workers. In addition, it is home to one of Canada's most diverse communities, combining francophone, First Nations and Métis populations with a vibrant immigrant component.
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights contains 11 galleries that cover a wide array of issues surrounding human rights: (1) What are Human Rights, (2) Indigenous Perspectives, (3) Canadian Journeys, (4) Protecting Rights in Canada, (5) Examining the Holocaust, (6) Turning Points for Humanity, (7) Breaking the Silence, (8) Actions Count, (9) Rights Today, (10) Inspiring Change, and (11) Expressions.
The gallery devoted to Indigenous Perspectives includes a commissioned work by Ojibwa artist Rebecca Belmore, Trace (2014), a multi-storey, handmade ceramic blanket that is part of a series of works examining the ongoing traumatic history of Aboriginal peoples. Canadian Journeys features exhibits on residential schools, the forced relocation of the Inuit, the internment of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War, the Chinese head tax, the Underground Railroad, the Komagata Maru, and the Winnipeg General Strike. Examining the Holocaust explores not just the Holocaust but other genocides, such as the Holodomor (the Ukrainian famine in 1932–33), the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
The museum has been beset by controversy from two directions. Between 2008 and 2012, Quaternary Consultants archaeologist Sid Kroker and Stantec Consulting archaeologist David McLeod excavated the building site of the museum and recovered some 400,000 Aboriginal artifacts, some dating back as far as 1100 C.E. It has been suggested that this makes the site the greatest resource for Aboriginal artifacts in Manitoba and therefore an inappropriate location for The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In addition, some have implied that the site is located on an ancient Aboriginal burial ground. There have, however, been over 50 separate excavations on the site since the 1950s, and while artifacts have been discovered, no human remains have been found.
The second source of ongoing controversy has been the museum’s content and the separate galleries allotted to the Holocaust and the persecution of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Beginning in 2010, such groups as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Canadians for Genocide Education, the German-Canadian Congress, and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association have objected that it is inappropriate to give special status to two instances of the gross violation of human rights over others such as the Ukrainian Famine of 1932 or the internment of Ukrainians and other Europeans in camps across Canada between 1914 and 1920.
In October 2014, it was announced that the museum’s founding director, Stuart Murray, would not have his contract renewed. There were reports that one of the reasons that the opening of certain exhibits, including one on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, was delayed was that Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover was putting pressure on the museum to cast Canada’s human rights record in a more positive light.
A National Museum
Designed by American architect Antoine Predock, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is Canada's fifth national museum and the first to be created since 1967. In addition, it is the first national museum in Canada's history to be located outside the National Capital Region. An important component of the development of the CMHR was the establishment of the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Formed in 2002 as a cooperative partnership between the public and private sector, Friends of the CMHR is a registered charity that was founded to spearhead the creation of the new museum and to manage the capital campaign to raise private sector funding.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a member of the Canadian Heritage Portfolio and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.