Canadian Human Rights Museum fuels Indigenous Genocide Debate

By: Isaac Wurmann

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened its door to fanfare and controversy on September 20, 2014.

IMG_5949The project was first announced 11 years ago. $351 million later, the commanding glass and Tyndall stone building dominates the Winnipeg skyline.

Winnipeg has an impressive human rights history, making it an appropriate location for Canada’s first national museum outside the National Capital Region.

The museum was spearheaded by the late Israel Asper, who saw there was a need for human rights education in Canada, says Moses Levy, the executive director of The Asper Foundation.

Asper “felt that human rights [is] the most important element of a civil society,” according to Levy.

After a tumultuous first few years, the CMHR was granted status as a federal institution in 2008, according to Levy. This means the federal government covers the museum’s operating costs.

Receiving federal money has its benefits but it also comes with potential challenges.

“I think the big questions will be around, as a federal museum, as a crown corporation, to what extent will they address or challenge some of the issues that are maybe uncomfortable for the government of the day,” says Dean Peachey, the Acting Principle of Global College at the University of Winnipeg.

The human rights business is not a place to make friends, says Peachey.

“You offend lots of people and you make people uncomfortable, and that’s part of what, as a human rights museum, it will need to do.”

Since its conception, the CMHR has been criticized by groups who fear their stories will not be accurately told in the museum.

The opening weekend was tarnished by controversy after Ottawa-based electronic group A Tribe Called Red withdrew from their scheduled performance because the museum does not use the word “genocide” to describe human rights abuses suffered by Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Other scholars and members of Canada’s indigenous and non-indigenous communities have echoed their discontent.

Photo by Gerry Shingoose

A demonstration called The Sacred Fire took place during the museum’s opening weekend. The event was meant to provide a space to share and heal by offering tobacco and cedar medicine to the fire, and to “acknowledge the genocide that happened,” explained Gerry Shingoose, a Saulteaux woman from Tootinawaziibeeng First Nation. Shingoose organized the event with two others.

Shingoose is a survivor of the Muscowequan Indian Residential School. While at the school, she says she experienced emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse on a daily basis.

150, 000 Aboriginal children are estimated to have attended residential schools in Canada. Shingoose called her experience within the Indian Residential School system horrific, traumatizing, and inhumane.

“I can’t understand why they wouldn’t acknowledge it [as genocide],” says Shingoose.

The Indian Residential School system should be recognized as genocide, agrees David MacDonald, a genocide scholar at the University of Guelph.

“I’ve argued that it violates 2(e) of the genocide convention, which is forcibly transferring children from one group to another,” he said.

MacDonald is referring to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article 2 of the agreement outlines punishable act of genocide. One of the illegal acts is transporting children of one group to another with force.

The federal government currently recognizes five genocides: the Holocaust, the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and the Srebrenic genocide in Bosnia. These crimes are the focus of the CMHR’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ gallery.

This is problematic, according to MacDonald.

“When the word ‘genocide’ is being used for five different big crimes in the museum, and its not being used for residential schools, you have a hierarchy which is naturally developed,” he explained.

As a museum, it is not the role of the CMHR to make declarations regarding terminology, says Angela Cassie, the museum’s director of communications and external relations. Instead, “we can facilitate a conversation … we can inform people so they can add their voices to the conversation.”

Although the word “genocide” is not used to describe aspects of the colonization of indigenous peoples in Canada, indigenous content exists in every gallery of the museum. This includes the “Breaking the Silence” gallery, which looks at residential schools as part of their mass atrocities exhibit.

The museum’s largest gallery, “Canadian Journeys,” has an exhibit about the REDress project, which focuses on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

IMG_1491The museum boasts 11 galleries on six levels, which are connected by a network of glowing alabaster ramps . Visitors begin in a dimly lit subterranean hall. Then, they make their way into galleries that feature floor-to-ceiling windows, before reaching the Tower of Hope, which rises a 100 meters above the city.

The goal of the museum is to provide an “inspiring experience”, says Cassie.

“We show a broad cross-section of human rights stories, we bring forward multiple perspectives, but what you’re actually invited to do as a visitor is to join the conversation.”

The first two galleries provide a variety of human rights definitions, including universal and indigenous perspectives. The following six IMG_5936galleries, which are not yet open to the public, address topics including Canadian human rights stories, the Holocaust, mass atrocities, and social movements.

The last three galleries are an examination of contemporary human rights struggles, a temporary exhibit space, and a gallery which curators hope will leave visitors feeling inspired to tackle human rights issues in their own communities. The public has been able to access these spaces on guided tours since Sept. 20, 2014.

Interactive touch screens and video theatres dominate most of the museum. This allows for depth and detail to be added to the stories over time, explained Cassie.

“It is a living, breathing organization and exhibition program,” she says. “People will be able to come back and discover new things.”

Even so, Shingoose says she is not ready to visit the museum. She indicated that another Sacred Fire event will be organized on the anniversary of the museum’s opening.

Only five of the museum’s galleries are currently open to the public. Visitors will be able to take part in the full museum experience, either on a guided tour or at their own pace, starting Nov. 11.

A Day in a Wheelchair

By: Patrick Butler

Walking in someone else’s shoes is sometimes easier said than done – especially when that person can’t use their legs. And as a person who has never broken a bone, walked on crutches or worn a brace – I am even cavity-free – it was hard to sympathize with how a disability or an injury could ever affect my mobility.

But on Thursday, after picking up a wheelchair from the Canadian Red Cross, I tried putting myself in the place of someone forced to wheel around in a city as weather-beaten and as flagrantly hilly as St. John’s. Such was my mission – not to point out shoddy infrastructure, but to try and understand, even for a few hours and in a few circumstances, some of the challenges of living with a disability in a place like this.

I would go about my day as normal, but other than driving, wherever I went and no matter what I did, I would have to be in my chair. Despite my new wheels, Thursday was a day like any other. Before lunch, I ran an errand at the Centre scolaire et communautaire des Grands-Vents on Ridge Road, where a combination of wind, rain-drizzle-fog and uphill pavement was my first test at wheelchair competency. An iffy automatic door opener took its time working, but I eventually got inside the building, where I accidentally set off an alarm in a tiny elevator for lack of signage.

Later, I drove to Memorial University and picked up a friend after her accounting class. We’d planned to try out the Rooms Café for lunch. Luckily, a suitable table opened up just before we arrived (about half the restaurant’s tables are high enough for bar stools).

I manoeuvred around other people’s seats and a waitress moved a chair so I could wheel myself in to our table. The tabletop connected with my armrests, which kept me from pulling in close enough, but we managed. After lunch, we went around downtown.

By this point sidewalks were steadily proving themselves some of the trickiest areas for me to wheel my chair, mostly because they were usually graded toward the road. That meant more effort to keep my chair straight, a slower pace and even more reduced mobility. We parked on Harbour Drive just across the road from Eastern Edge Gallery.

When I crossed the street at Clift’s-Baird’s Cove, the sidewalk lip intended for wheelchairs, which doesn’t actually connect with the crosswalk, put me out in traffic. A few hundred feet later, my chair’s footplates crashed into the pavement when I tried wheeling myself over a sidewalk curb without a lip. Lucky for me, I had a friend to help. But had I been alone, or had I truly lacked the ability to use my legs, I would have been stuck.

At Atlantic Place (our point of access to the shops on Water Street because its elevators helped me avoid a steep uphill roll from the harbour front), we headed to the office building’s main exit. When we got to the front doors, there were stairs, but no ramp.

Again, I was stuck. I asked a cashier where the wheelchair exit was located. He didn’t know.

We found it eventually – a side-alley off the food court. The rest of the day continued in much the same way. On Water Street, many of the stores had doorsteps and narrow entranceways – probably as much as the result of space as of accessibility concerns.

Crossing at crosswalks – especially those that run parallel to the harbour front and perpendicular to some pretty steep downhill slopes – was especially treacherous. Arms tired and fed up with the weather, we called it a day. I put the wheelchair in the trunk, stepped into the driver’s seat and left the woes of wheelchair accessibility behind.

I’m lucky. Not everyone can.

Transgender Dressing Rooms A Big Stride Forward for Hockey Canada

By: Ilse Mendoza

As of September of this year, Hockey Canada has agreed to allow minor hockey players in Ontario to decide what dressing room they feel comfortable using depending on the gender they identify with.

The new dressing rooms will also allow players to be called by their chosen name and preferred pronouns.

This is a huge step in the right direction for transgender rights. It’s always good to see gay rights move forward, but to see transgender rights move forward is deeply refreshing. The fight for their rights has always been seen as secondary as if gay rights are inescapable, but transgender rights are merely optional.

There are a few concerns that surround the idea of transgender bathrooms, which will undoubtedly surface regarding Hockey Canada’s decision sooner or later. The most prominent of these concerns is the potential for a cisgender man to take advantage of these dressing rooms in order to harass women. There is also the unease of some that transgender girls will have a leg up because physically they’re still males.

I don’t mean to brush off these concerns but with 87% of trans youth reporting physical abuse, 44% reporting physical abuse, and 26% reporting a history of life-threatening behaviour, I think it’s past time that we prioritize trans youth.

If that’s not enough to convince that we don’t give trans youth the importance they deserve, consider looking over the National School Climate Survey. In it, 55% of transgender students admit that they avoid school restrooms for fear of abuse, among other things, and 51.7% admit that they avoid locker rooms for similar reasons.

I also feel an uncertainty and it’s one that I haven’t seen expressed in any article covering the situation. It pertains to the limitations of these new dressing rooms. They will only be available for minor hockey players and it will only extend within Ontario. Hockey Canada has stated that it has no intention to implement the change beyond Ontario.

This of course raises a few doubts. Mainly, did Hockey Canada agree on a settlement before the complaint had time to go viral and cause problems for them? Or does it genuinely have in mind the best interests of all its players?

It might be easier to understand if they didn’t extend this change to every province at once, but to state that there are no plans to do so in the future calls into question the nature of the decision.

What ever the reason behind the settlement may be, there are transgender teenagers who no longer have to feel masked, who alternatively can feel safe doing what they love and for this I am grateful.

Lack of Due Diligence in Media’s Reporting of Excessive Police Force

By: Kirk Kitzul

Re: VIDEO via CBC:
B.C. RCMP officer investigated after violent arrest caught on tape

“Last week we were the first to bring you the story of disturbing allegations against a Terrace RCMP officer.” This is how the anchor opens the clip in the link above. He isn’t speaking about the RCMP officer addressed in the title of the story. Instead, the anchor references CBC’s own glory in having been the first to tell Canadians about an instance of police violence that occurred the week prior. One of the main rules you’ll hear reinforced by any journalist is to lead with what is the latest news, certainly not what happened “last week.” They don’t call it the news for any other reason. As for the self-referencing, the second element from Kovach and Rosenstiel’s “The Elements of Journalism” says:  [Journalism’s] first loyalty is to citizens. Citizens, not itself.

Continuing from that first sentence, the “disturbing allegations” regard a “brutal jail cell take-down that left a man permanently brain damaged.” Here I find even more problems. To begin, allegations do not, and will never, equate to actions. The actions, herein relegated to the second sentence, should always come before the allegations, charges or accusations. Continuing, there is a disproportionate use of descriptor words when it comes to the attack and the man who was attacked. The man is simply referred to as “a man” whereas the attack has a layered, three-part description: Brutal / jail cell / take-down.

Brutal refers to the excessive degree of violence and this is great, because, quite frankly, the attack is incredibly violent. Yet while this adjective is good, it is directly followed by jail, a location that not only has negative connotations but is foreign to the majority of society. A jail cell is seen in movies and TV shows, rarely in real life. Society says someone in jail is a ‘criminal’ and criminals are ‘bad.’ Jails (and jail cells) are scary places where rape and violence regularly occur… at a safe distance from society, you know, ‘outside.’ Take-down sounds like a phrase more likely uttered by a UFC commentator than a journalist. While the man has not been given any characteristics, he’s depicted as a criminal who was the victim of a horrendous (but awesome) mixed martial arts move.  What pretext does that afford to the latest victim of an RCMP attack? As if publishing the identity of the man in that attack has become widely known. Use his name, especially since you’re referencing old news.

Moving on to the newest video of police violence in Terrace, which can be seen in its entirety here:
There’s a part of the video that goes almost entirely unmentioned in the CBC broadcast and article. The video begins with two officers; Officer A is in the motion of standing up, while Officer B is already on top of a young man, punching him. From where Officer A was standing up we see a long-haired individual lying face-down. The CBC article says “the violent arrest took place after RCMP were called to deal with a fight between a young man and woman.” I assume the person on the ground is that young woman. The article continued to say “as the violence unfolds, a woman flees the scene and is brought back by another officer.” This segment of the video is not visible in the CBC clip because they zoomed in from the original footage during the part when the woman is chased. Why is Officer A chasing after a potential victim of gendered violence anyways? By her gestures, it appears she may have been approaching the officers about their actions toward the young man. But, as Officer A turns and points at her, she runs. We can see this woman being led back to the location of the young man by Officer A. From 0:42 to 1:02 the woman and Officer A (now joined by a third officer, Officer C) disappear from sight. It is in this point of the video I urge you to listen intently. There might be more to this video than CBC leads us to believe with their coverage and article. After 1:02 Officers A and C take the woman and put her in the RCMP vehicle. I will be watching this investigation with a close eye.

It seems like every week there’s a new video surfacing that depicts police officers using excessive force and violence. Citizens need to not only be aware of their own rights but, more importantly, the rights of everyone else around them. I feel that as more people see these civilian-directed videos online they understand the need to hold people in positions of Power accountable, especially police officers. I feel it also gives people the reassurance they will not be arrested for filming the police. These acts of citizen-journalism tell those wielding power that they are being monitored by more than just an independent investigation.

A former friend who is now a police officer was quoted as saying he likes when a suspect is over 6 ft. tall because it is a challenge. The man is small in stature but has become incredibly muscular after joining the police force, unrecognizable to myself upon first glance. He is only a few years into his service to his city. This piece of insight has been continuously on my mind since I first heard it, as it brings a whole new perspective to these cases of police officers issuing excessive force.  ​


BLOG: JHR Carleton’s Student Chapter second annual Rhymes for Rights event

By Emily Fearon

Photo by Charissa Feres.
Photo by Charissa Feres.

Until last week, I was a spoken word poetry virgin. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Spoken word and I had hung out a bit before last Wednesday, and it was fun, but nothing serious. However, on October 15 the beginning of a beautiful and hopefully long term relationship blossomed between us.

Journalists for Human Rights Carleton Student Chapter put on their second annual Rhymes for Rights spoken word event. The spoken word night is a fundraiser for JHR’s international projects happening worldwide. On Wednesday the poems ranged in topic, but the proceeds were all going to fund training for journalists in South Sudan. The goal is to strengthen the media, in terms of the journalist, in South Sudan so they can report on local and national news. This is just one of many projects JHR (as a media development organization) runs, and student chapters, like the one at Carleton, support.

Photo by Charissa Feres.
Photo by Charissa Feres.

The talent on display last Wednesday came from Carleton students and local poets, each exhibiting an awe-inspiring presentation. Many of the poems were centered on love. There were franc conversations about sex, marriage, broken relationships, unrequited love, and even a love poem written about winter. These balanced nicely with the equally passionate poems about human rights issues. Some of the presenters decried racism, poverty, and apathy, and others called for social justice, a renewed interest in women’s rights, and self-confidence. You were hard pressed to find someone in attendance
that night who wasn’t moved by at least one poet’s words.

The overarching message of the night came from both Kathryn Sheppard and Brandon Wint, the featured speakers. Kathryn had worked at the JHR Head Office in Toronto and on JHR projects overseas. Though she no longer works for JHR, she still spoke proudly of the journalists she met and worked with during her time with the organization. Kathryn believes vehemently in responsible journalism, which entails journalists reporting responsibly, but also extends to journalists holding those in power accountable. The story Kathryn shared was of a foreign government who declared that the
stories written by JHR-trained journalists made them work harder. The journalists put pressure on the government and saw their work make a difference in their country. Seeing results like this encourage us and remind us why we do what we do.

Photo of Brandon Wint, by Charissa Feres.
Photo of Brandon Wint, by Charissa Feres.

Brandon Wint is an acclaimed Ottawa poet who has traveled across the country with his spoken word, teaches poetry writing, and loves cookies. He shared some of his work at Rhymes for Rights, and the audience loved it. Though not a journalist like Kathryn, Brandon declared that the best journalism is motivated by love. Indeed, he shared his life perspective that everything is for and about love. And there’s something to that.

We need to keep storytelling alive, be it through poetry or through journalism or through our love stories.

F Safe Space Shirts Embarrassing for Individuals, Not Carleton

By: Moojan Haidari

Frosh doesn’t have a stamp of 100 per cent customer satisfaction guarantee on it.

It can be a great experience for some who are ready to rock it out with their peers and get pumped up by their overly excited frosh facilitators, and for others it can be a very average experience.

But this year it was an unfortunate welcome for many new Carleton students. A university that upholds a safe campus space, where posters of ‘dignity’, ‘equality’ and ‘respect’ are plastered around the popular areas of the school, the campus was in a precarious situation after a few students decided to contradict those values.

I can’t seem to fathom why people would wear shirts suggesting that sexual harassment is acceptable. We live in a society that vilifies and stigmatizes those who condone or commit sexual harassment.

So the question is, why would the individuals (both male and female) wear shirts that give such a connotation?

Some have argued the inappropriate wording is in protest of a university rule prohibiting swearing during frosh, and others argue it’s directed towards rape culture and homophobia. I think it’s common knowledge that students swear. But putting inappropriate wording on a shirt that could suggest many things is not the smartest move. Regardless of whether there was malicious intent or if it was just something snazzy to put on a shirt, the social media world has spoken.

Now this got me thinking about the pre-production phase of the shirt. Did no one consider that this could be taken the wrong way? Did no one stop to think that anyone could snap a picture of them wearing an inappropriate shirt and post it in the fast-paced social media world where it could be scrutinized inside and out?

It’s upsetting to see people attacking Carleton as a whole for this action. After several sexual harassment cases at Carleton, the campus evidently condones these actions. This is clear through all the ‘consent is sexy’ pins that seem to be everywhere and many other pins and posters that condemn rape culture.

I keep hearing about how this is freedom of expression, which I am all for, but frosh leaders are representing Carleton. The campus upholds certain values that are for the benefit of all people in order to create inclusivity. The ambiguity of the meaning of the shirt should not have gone unchecked by upper-year university students.

All in all, it’s quite unfortunate that the people who chose to make this bad decision attend Carleton. Serious issues such as rape culture need to be addressed, but hopefully things don’t blow out of proportion. It’s when it has reached an unbearable point that some people find ways to make it into a cheeky joke.

I’m sure if those individuals who wore the shirts could go back in time they would think before they wore it out in public. But there’s nothing more embarrassing than the image of the two boys looking happy-go-lucky with that shirt on. After so much backlash, it’s their safety I fear for the most.

Americanah: The Complexity of Identity

Photo provided by Deqa Ahmed.
Photo provided by Deqa Ahmed.

By Deqa Ahmed

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an author and a self-proclaimed feminist. You may know her from Beyoncé’s ***Flawless, where her 2012 “we should all be feminists” speech was sampled.

Adichie’s third novel Americanah is weaved with discussions of race, class, immigration and identity. Americanah is told primarily from the perspective of Ifemelu, in a flashback format from a hair salon in the present, to significant points in her past. While this novel does provide an endearing love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, love is not the central focus of the story.

Ifemelu and Obinze meet in high school in Nigeria, falling in love almost immediately. Around this time Nigeria is under military rule and their future prospects are bleak. Obinze is enamoured by all facets of American culture, particularly literature. Due to the military rule, Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to pursue an education in the states, leaving Obinze behind. Obinze, unable to be granted a visa to study in the States eventually ends up in London, struggling to get a fake social security number so he can find work. Ifemelu is facing a similar struggle, unable to find a job to sustain herself in America. At this point, the novel begins to delve into the meaty discussions described above.

As soon as Ifemelu arrives in America, she is confronted with the reality of being a new immigrant to a foreign country. Although she comes from a middle class family, her peers suddenly perceive her as being unintelligent and incapable of speaking English. A poignant example presents itself when Ifemelu goes to school on the first day to register. Cristina Tomas at the registration desk speaks to her extremely slowly. Unknowingly, Ifemelu assumed Cristina was suffering from an illness, causing her to speak so slowly. She soon realizes Cristina was simply attempting to accommodate her speech.

“…Cristina Tomas was speaking like that because of her, her foreign accent, and she felt for a moment like a small child, lazy limbed and drooling…. Ifemelu shrank. In that strained, still second where her eyes met Cristina Tomas’ before she took the forms, she shrank. She shrank like a dried leaf. She had spoken English all her life, led the debating society in secondary school, and always thought the American twang inchoate; she should not have cowered and shrunk, but she did. And in the following weeks, as autumn’s coolness descended, she began to practice an American accent.”

 Ifemelu is subsequently introduced to the labels deeply entrenched within America’s historical makeup. She is introduced to the intricacies present within these labels, such as the differences between ‘African-Americans’ (those descended from slaves) and ‘American-Africans’ who have recently immigrated to America.

As Ifemelu settles into herself in America, she becomes unapologetic and refuses to dilute her identity. She is introspective and her self-reflections provide a necessary representation of what it truly means to be black in America.

She starts a blog titled ‘Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non—American Black”. Her blog details her experiences as a ‘Non-American Black’, among these being the politicized issue of black hair. Ifemelu discusses the expectations faced by black women to straighten or chemically relax their hair, in order to make others feel more comfortable. Experiencing this pressure, Ifemelu chemically relaxed her hair in order to secure a job.

Near the end of the book, the past fades into the present and Ifemelu makes the decision to return to Nigeria. She is reunited with Obinze, who now has a wife and a child.

Through Ifemelu, Adichie was able to disentangle the complicated history of race in America. Adichie provides a translation comprehensible to the general population, whose own identities may have prevented them from comprehending the experiences of non-whites.

Mobilizing Media. Changing Lives.


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