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Wpg Free Press: Human Rights, fears of watering down the struggle

September 16, 2014 — 

Law professor Karen Busby was interviewed by the Winnipeg Free Press about news that the federal government has asked for a list of Canadian Museum for Human Rights content that names the government, raising fears of political interference in museum content.

As reporter Mary Agnes Welch writes:

University of Manitoba law Prof. Karen Busby, who is co-editing an academic book about the museum, says the spectre of government interference is “somewhat worrying,” especially as it relates to current events.

“My concern is the extent to which the museum will be able to deal with current issues without facing pressures to water down the struggle,” she said. “We must balance the good and bad news.”

In particular, Busby is worried about how the museum will deal frankly with the issue of missing and slain indigenous women, reignited recently by the killing of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine and Harper’s rejection of a national inquiry.

She is also concerned about how the museum will tackle the ongoing struggle by many First Nations reserves, especially in Manitoba, for clean drinking water.

Busby’s research has already identified some perplexing changes in the tone of key exhibits as the museum’s content was evolving.

Using documents obtained through access-to-information legislation, she compared the 2012 and 2013 descriptions of each gallery’s content and main message.

In some cases, there was improvement, such as a more complex and detailed approach to aboriginal legal and spiritual traditions in the Indigenous Perspectives Gallery.

But, in other cases, the text appears to suggest the museum has watered down Canada’s history as a human-rights violator and downplayed the political struggles that, in many cases, forced the government to act.

For example, in 2012, the main message visitors were to glean from a story niche on the experiences of refugees was that “refugees who escape threatening situations to come to Canada have little control over their acceptance and the way they are portrayed in the media.” By 2013, the main message had been altered to “Canada is recognized around the world as a safe haven for refugees.”

That change, said Busby, is surprising given shifts to refugee policy, including cuts to health care and rules allowing for the detention of some asylum-seekers.

A niche on same-sex marriage noted in 2012 that “some same-sex couples have fought hard to have their unions recognized in law.” By 2013, the message for visitors was that “in 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.”



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