New Canadian Media
Thursday, 02 June 2016 18:26

Ontario Sikh Genocide Motion Defeated

 THE World Sikh Organization of Canada said on Thursday that it is deeply disappointed by the Ontario Liberal Government’s vote against a motion recognizing the November 1984 attacks on Sikhs as a genocide. NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh had introduced a Private Members’ Motion reading, “That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of […]

 

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Published in Politics

by Maria Assaf in Oxford, England

Imagine being a child bride in pre-revolutionary Iran – suffering abuse on a daily basis, being forced into a joyless marriage and having children at the age of 13. There is no law or organization that can protect you, as the entire affair is perfectly legal.

Now, imagine having a beautiful husband and children, a mother and father, and then losing them all in a genocide.

What hope could remain in a human heart after enduring such calamities?

Could an intense desire to right the wrongs or change the world bring back life to a suffering soul?

In Amity, author Nasreen Pejvack makes her reader wrestle with such questions, page after page, as she recounts both the painful and happy memories that form the lives of her two main characters: Ragusa, a survivor of the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, who is on the verge of taking her own life, and her unknowing rescuer, Payvand, who is an Iranian activist with a tragic life story of her own.

Paradox of the West

Amity shows that there are moments in some peoples’ lives in which hope does not materialize from suffering. There are times when the soul has been so utterly shattered, that the mere suggestion of finding meaning within its pain is insulting.

Pejvack presents a panorama of a Western world – with its affluence and the seeming peace of its clean streets – which hides many truths and stories of refugees or others who have fled conflict and reached what seems like a safe haven.

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport.

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport or British citizenship. The marks that their pasts have left on their souls will accompany them forever, like a shadow surrounding the most trivial moments of their lives.

Yes, many of them have been saved; the lucky few have even re-married in their new countries and found jobs and successful careers. But who can take away the pain of the memories, the tears, and the nightmares that keep survivors trapped in their minds as if in a prison of their pasts?

Pejvack’s book is heartfelt throughout. It is honest and direct and her phrases are simple, clear, and concise.

For those readers who are fortunate not to have suffered the misfortunes of war, oppression and tragedy, this book will provide insight into the lives of the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing similar fates as Ragusa and Payvand.

Understanding each other, and the world

Amity is a testament of sympathy with victims and the experience of sharing an understanding of tragedy and pain; of expressing empathy towards those who feel that no one could possibly understand the depths of their suffering. 

This book grabs the audience’s attention rapidly, with its strong life stories and its vibrant political, economic and historical debates, made intentionally easy to read.

Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

The writer’s political debates illustrate the evils that have plagued Iran and the nations that formed the former Yugoslavia, creating strong sentiments between two women who shared impassionate days and brought joy to each other in their pain.

The book succeeds at making the audience care about global politics and the way it creates wars that lead to the kinds of crises that have made these two protagonists suffer so much in their lives.

As Payvand tries to pull Ragusa back to life by telling her stories, this book also grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity from the beginning by making us want to learn more about the fascinating characters Pejvack describes in each chapter.

For those interested in the histories of the places where conflict has struck recently, this book embarks on detailed accounts of Iran’s recent past, explaining how the country came to be what it is now.

Pejvack’s explanations are nuanced and politically knowledgeable. Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

… Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

Call to action                        

Each of Pejvack’s characters is an activist in her own right.

Ragusa, a Croat, married a Serb – something inconceivable during tense times in which Croatian and Serbian populations were at war.

Payvand, an Iranian revolutionary, had to see her comrades die and experience the disappointment of witnessing the onset of what she calls an ignorant revolution.

From the portrait of violence Pejvack presents comes a call for revolution. Formerly a writer and poet for an underground activist publication in Iran, Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

The call for unity regardless of nationality and other differences is one of the most beautiful premises this book proposes. This work is a must-read for inspired young citizens of the world, as Pejvack appeals to those who are trying to make a difference and are in need of some accessible guidance on how to contribute positively to the world.

Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian freelance reporter who writes for Latin American, Filipino and other immigrant publications in Canada, including New Canadian Media. She completed her bachelor's degree in journalism at Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching refugee freedom of expression.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books
Friday, 31 July 2015 16:12

A Pantomime of Misplaced Moral Outrage

by Hadani Ditmars (@HadaniDitmars) in Vancouver, British Columbia

A little moral outrage is a dangerous thing. So learned a certain dentist from Minnesota with a penchant for trophy hunting this week when he faced the wrath of the Internet hive mind for killing a now famous Zimbabwean lion named Cecil.

He received death threats, hate mail and Mia Farrow – that guardian of Hollywood righteousness – tweeted the dentist's U.S. street address to her followers.

Whether Dr. Walter Palmer survives the week in gun-crazed America aside, (the likelihood of him being killed by a cop for say a routine traffic violation is rather low) one thing has become clear in the last few days: outraged – let’s face it – predominantly Anglo-American online hive minds are a force to be reckoned with.

But the outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion begs the question: where is the outrage over the suffering and murder of innocent humans?

[T]he English-speaking hive mind fetishizes the death of a single animal while ignoring the plight of millions of people.

Lion King

Now I admit to being as Disneyfied as the rest of my generation – I grew up with the Lion King – not to mention Born Free, Out of Africa and Gorillas in the Mist – films that celebrated white colonial culture and its moral superiority when it came to animal rights.

But why is it that with all the knowledge about moral outrages perpetrated against humans at our googlable command, the English-speaking hive mind fetishizes the death of a single animal while ignoring the plight of millions of people?

Have we entered a neo-Victorian age where sentimentality towards animals trumps concern about say rampant child prostitution (big now and then) or even issues like genocide?

Why is it that so many are capable of compassion towards poor Cecil and hatred of the dentist (admittedly not a very sympathetic character) while remaining so dispassionate about so many other burning issues? The lion/dentist story has become a bizarre kind of online pantomime complete with evil villain and innocent victim – distracting us while thousands of untold stories languish in well meaning blogs.
 
Worthy of compassion
 
As I read frighteningly fascist comments in stories about the migrants storming the Chunnel between England and France, I wonder, are African animals somehow more worthy of compassion than Africa’s displaced?
 
Is this just a result of the same escapist instinct that makes people avoid depressing stories about say maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa and click on to silly cat videos? Or is it something more sinister, to put it politely, cultural bias?
 
While some African friends joked that Dr. Palmer should have killed Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe instead of Cecil (apparently big game hunting is such a booming business in Zimbabwe now that Madame Mugabe is allegedly displacing farm workers to make way for wild animals) and done the whole continent a favour, we should be wary of offing dictators on a whim. (After all Moammar Gaddafi’s ghost haunts the violent, militia driven chaos of Libya just as Saddam Hussein drives ongoing post-invasion violence in Iraq.)
 
Refugees as cockroaches
 
And while I’m not in favour of vigilante online violence per se, I am a fan of Utah Phillips who wrote, “The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
 
In fact, I have a few suggestions for Mia Farrow. She might want to do some digging and come up with the names and phone numbers of the NATO generals and CIA agents who helped engineer regime change in Libya, and send them to outraged commentators who buy the line espoused by the likes of Sun columnist Katie Hopkins that migrants – many of whom are fleeing the chaos that ensued post regime change -- are “cockroaches”
 
Why is it that so many are capable of compassion towards poor Cecil and hatred of the dentist while remaining so dispassionate about so many other burning issues?
 
But that might be too complex for the hive mind to grasp. And besides, no one has sentimentality towards cockroaches -- they are the dispossessed of the animal world -- cast aside for the like of televisual lions, killed by errant dentists.
 
Gaza assault
 
So let’s try something simpler and hope it works.
 
In this week of outrages, I have seen very little of it about the Amnesty International report on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza last year that killed 135 civilians – 75 of them children.
 
“Eyewitness accounts described horrifying scenes of chaos and panic as an inferno of fire from F-16 jets, drones, helicopters and artillery rained down on the streets, striking civilians on foot or in cars, as well as ambulances and other vehicles evacuating the wounded,” a spokesperson said.
 
Other reports this week released by Human Rights Watch, UNICEF and the U.S. State Department point to systemic abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli security forces.
 
As images of Cecil’s carcass dominate Facebook posts, I am reminded of a horror story from yet another UN report on the Gaza assault from last June.
 
A certain paragraph 25 from the report has stayed with me for a very long time. After relaying a UNICEF statistic that 1,500 children were orphaned, it stated Bader Qdeih, aged 6, was seen pleading for help from people fleeing Khuza’a while holding his intestines, which were coming out of his abdomen, “I don’t want to die. Don’t leave me.” He died soon afterwards, after his medical evacuation was delayed.
 
But, of course, the story that made the Facebook rounds was about the two lion cubs  “rescued” from Gaza. 
 
Dear Mia Farrow and outraged commentators, why don’t you tweet the names and addresses of the Israeli generals who carried out the murderous attacks on Gaza (after all the bombs hurt the zoo animals too)? Or the leaders of radical settler movements who terrorize Palestinian civilians. Always good to know where one’s tax dollars end up. And who knows, some of the generals might turn out to be from Middle America too – just like the lion-hunting dentist.

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

Co-authored by Sacramento area Assembly members Jim Cooper, Kevin McCarty, Jim Gallagher and Ken Cooley, the Assembly [...]

The Link

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Published in International

by Atom Egoyan (@TheFullEgoyan) in Toronto

They are disappearing. When I arrived in Toronto in 1978 and first became involved with Armenian issues, there were many survivors still alive. Every year on April 24 — the day commemorating the Armenian genocide — we would head to Ottawa. There, survivors would present testimonials, and offer living proof of the systematic campaign of extermination carried out by Ottoman Turks a century ago.

These people would tell their haunting stories — stories that Canadians needed to hear. Unlike the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide has not been universally acknowledged. Turkey — the successor state to the Ottoman Empire — still refuses to admit the historical fact of the event. And with each passing year, there are fewer and fewer survivors left to disprove the deniers with eyewitness recollections. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, there was hope for accountability.

A Lesson in History

When the Young Turk government collapsed in 1918, many former senior party members fled to Germany, a wartime ally. But the incoming Turkish administration arrested hundreds of those officials who remained in the country — and their collaborators — on suspicion of having participated in the orchestration of the deportations and killings. The suspects were charged with a variety of offences, including murder, treason, and theft.

In a series of trials that took place between 1919 and 1920, former Young Turk officials delivered startling confessions and revealed secret documents that outlined the tactics they employed in carrying out their genocidal program.

After the war, the victorious Allies originally had advocated tough punishments for the criminals, as well as an independent Armenian republic in northeastern Turkey. But Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal, opposed this. Kemal, who in 1934 was granted the surname Atatürk (meaning “Father of the Turks”), believed the ongoing trials exemplified the desire of foreign powers to tear apart his country. He moved to shut them down and also sought to abrogate the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, under which Turkey was to recognize Armenia as “a free and independent state.” He promised to help Western nations gain access to the region’s valuable oil fields in return for their support of his cause.

The author Christopher Simpson provides a detailed account of what transpired during this period in his 1993 book, The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century:

Britain, France, and the United States were at that time vying with one another to divide up the vast oil and mineral wealth of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. Kemal skillfully played the three powers against each other… Though often overlooked today, the Ottoman holdings were of extraordinary value, perhaps the richest imperial treasure since the European seizure of the New World four centuries earlier. The empire had been eroding for decades, but by the time of the Turkish defeat in World War I, it still included most of what is today Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and the oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. The European governments sensed that the time had come to seize this rich prize.
Acknowledging Crimes Against Humanity

In the United States, meanwhile, the government’s cynical attitude toward Turkey and the Armenians was captured in a revealing letter from Allen Dulles, then chief of the Near East desk at the State Department. “Confidentially the State Department is in a bind,” he wrote in 1922. “Our task would be simple if the reports of the atrocities could be declared untrue or even exaggerated but the evidence, alas, is irrefutable.” To this day, the US government does not recognize the genocide.

Fortunately, Canada has taken a more enlightened view: in 2004, by a vote of 153–68, the House of Commons passed a resolution declaring that members “acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemn this act as a crime against humanity.” It was a momentous and welcome act. Only twenty-one other nations — including France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the Holy See — have official accepted the truth of what happened.

We must remain vigilant in the face of Turkey’s ongoing campaign of denial: the country’s authorities continue to claim that the brutality inflicted on the region’s Armenian population was merely one unfortunate manifestation of the violence that engulfed many ethnic communities during World War I.

But to be an Armenian a hundred years after the first genocide of the modern world is to know that such healing is impossible while the descendants of the perpetrators continue to deny their role in my own forebears’ suffering.

Even in those Western nations whose governments have recognized the event, media often will include the Turkish position in their reports— or they will hedge their descriptions by stating that Armenians “claim” a genocide took place, as if the issue were still shrouded in controversy.

In fact, there is no controversy: The International Association of Genocide Scholars has said clearly that those who “dispute that what happened to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constitutes genocide blatantly ignore the overwhelming historical and scholarly evidence.” The noted historian Deborah Lipstadt has written that “denial of genocide, whether that of the Turks against the Armenians or the Nazis against the Jews, is not an act of historical reinterpretation.. . . The deniers aim at convincing innocent third parties that there is another side of the story. . . when there is no other side.”

Time is supposed to heal all wounds. But to be an Armenian a hundred years after the first genocide of the modern world is to know that such healing is impossible while the descendants of the perpetrators continue to deny their role in my own forebears’ suffering. Though the survivors have all but completely disappeared, we — their grandchildren and great-grandchildren— are still fighting for global recognition of the horrors inflicted a century ago during the tragedy properly known as the Armenian genocide.


Re-published in partnership with The Walrus Magazine

Published in Commentary

Turkey has recalled its envoy to the Vatican after Pope Francis described the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman rule in WW1 as “genocide”. Turkey has reacted with anger to the comment made by the Pope at a service in Rome earlier on Sunday. Armenia and many historians say up to 1.5 million people were […]

The Weekly Voice

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Published in Other Regions
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 15:56

Privacy is an Irreplaceable Refuge

by Madeleine Thien

Imagine that I took all the e-mails and messages that I have ever written, as well as recordings of all Skype calls that I have ever made, and gave them to a group of strangers.

Since the strangers assemble this information digitally, their work is invisible to me. I don't, for instance, see a man in an overcoat sitting beside me in my bedroom or at my kitchen table, photocopying everything I type, recording my phone calls, and leaving each day with all my papers in his briefcase. If I did, I would surely be incensed, for he would be gaining entry not only into my intimate life, but into the private life of every person with whom I correspond. These include researchers, writers, journalists, and editors in other countries, including Burma, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and, of course, Canada. My life is a tiny window connected to a larger world.

These strangers, the National Security Agency (NSA) says, are not reading my papers – only collecting them.

According to their own arguments, in the best case scenario, they will read my life only when and if they perceive me, or anyone with whom I'm in contact, as a threat to security. However, the worst case scenario is also easy to picture.

Historic parallels

A recent, acclaimed documentary, The Act of Killing, portrayed the Indonesian government's massacre of alleged Communists in 1965. Within a single year, an estimated 500,000 to one million Indonesians were killed, often sadistically, by militias and assassination squads. The word “communist” was applied to anyone deemed a personal or political threat, including Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity. Over a million were imprisoned, some for decades. Disturbingly, former American embassy staff have said that they compiled lists of targets and furnished as many as 5,000 names to the Indonesian government. Referring to financial and equipment aid, Marshall Green, the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia at the time, wrote in a cable to the CIA: “The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be.”

For five years, I researched and wrote about the Cambodian civil war and genocide. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were obsessed with the network of relations between people: who a person knew, in the past, even decades before the Khmer Rouge came to power, was the sole indication of that person's present guilt. If anyone (man, woman or child) was named by three different people who had, themselves, been named, that person was automatically killed. Pol Pot believed that the enemy had infiltrated the country, and could be traced by revealing the societal and familial ties – the correspondences and friendships – between individuals. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives.

Cambodians and Indonesians may seem very far away but, for me, they are not. Indeed, the histories I mention are part of my generation. The foreign other is not as distant as we sometimes wish to believe, and the past is not all that different from the present: as a novelist, I've committed my life to this truth. The ever-expanding past is a continuous mirror to the here and now.

The stranger in my room, reading my private messages, carries an implicit and far-reaching threat. Today, I am not saying anything untoward (at least, I don't think I am) but perhaps, tomorrow, or someday in the future, I will be at odds with my government, the American government, or an ally of these two. Perhaps someone with whom I correspond will be in this position. Indeed, this is not merely a likelihood, but a certainty.

Deciding for the many

We entrust our governments with specific powers, but we don't hand them our lives. However, these strangers are already in our rooms. Should we trust the priorities these strangers will have in 10 years, or 20 or 50? Should we trust that this immense cache of data will not become a commodity, traded to other governments that exist now, or will exist in the future? Democracy, as a system, was intended to prevent the few from deciding, unilaterally, on behalf of the many. State scrutiny of our inner lives is not democracy, for such scrutiny claims our thoughts – the place in which we debate, consider, rage, reflect and be – as state property. In my own life, and in the months I've spent in places where internet censorship is inescapable, I have become acutely aware that freedom of thought requires privacy. Privacy is an irreplaceable refuge that allows us to breathe, to recover and to grow.

Not of all us may believe that our own e-mails, letters, telephone calls, and internet habits need privacy or protection. But to give up these rights on behalf of those who do, who courageously challenge the fear, corruption and intimidation in their own countries and in mine, is something I'm unwilling to do.

This essay originally appeared in the Globe & Mail on December 10, when more than 500 international writers signed an appeal calling for an International Bill of Digital Rights. The appeal was published in 30 countries around the world. The appeal can be signed at: http://www.change.org/petitions/a-stand-for-democracy-in-the-digital-age-3. 

Madeleine Thien is the author of three books of fiction, including her most recent novel, Dogs at the Perimeter. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Guardian, GrantaPEN AmericaThe WalrusFive DialsBrickNew American City, and the Asia Literary Review, and her books have been translated into 18 languages. In 2010, she received the Ovid Festival Prize, awarded each year to an international writer of promise. Born in Vancouver, Madeleine has lived in the Netherlands, Quebec City, Montreal, and Berlin, and has travelled widely in Southeast Asia. She is currently writer-in-residence at Simon Fraser University.
Published in Commentary

 VANCOUVER — Eloge Butera has seen some ghastly things in his life – things no one should ever have to experience or witness. The 29-year-...

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Published in National
Monday, 08 April 2013 20:43

Remembering Rwanda for humanity’s sake

by Alice Musabende

Every April since 1994 I find myself struggling with what to feel or to write about yet another anniversary of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. So here I am again, on the 19th anniversary of the 100 days that took my family, my friends and my childhood away, trying to express what it feels like – but mostly asking the world to remember with me, with thousands of other survivors and with Rwanda.

When I moved to Ottawa almost seven years ago to study, I thought I was far enough away, and that maybe I’ll be able to forget. The memories were becoming too heavy to carry. But as much as I wished to forget, I still remembered how it felt to hold and play with my little brother – he was two years old when the Hutus killed him. I still hear my mother’s voice while she sang Kinyarwanda songs – she loved to sing. I can still see my grandmother in her beautiful, squeaky clean bright yellow shoes. And every now and then, I think I see my grandfather walking towards me – tall and majestic. I remember each and every one of them (almost 30 people), as if they were here just yesterday.

And I wish you could remember them with me. They died a death I can’t begin to describe and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye or even properly bury them. You didn’t know any of them, they lived in a land very far away from yours, but trust me, you would have loved them if you’d met them – my little sister’s smile would have won you over.

This month, from Toronto to Vancouver through Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa, Rwandans from across Canada will commemorate the genocide. These yearly gatherings, as sad as they are, help us feel less lonely in our journey towards healing. We meet, talk, share stories, listen to horrifying stories, hold each other’s hands – and sometimes even laugh a bit. There are not very many of us in Canada – or anywhere else for that matter, but we like to get together at least twice in the month of April, to remember and to stand strong together.

Over the years, survivors like myself have settled into our New-Canadian lives. And as years pass, at every gathering I am amazed by how we are growing stronger, emotionally or otherwise. Many of us are already in the work force, others are opening up businesses or finishing PhD studies. We work, we care for our families and look towards the future with the hope and faith that a land that generously received us will help us heal and thrive. And it has. Almost 20 years ago, we were mostly children or teenagers. Now, we have grown into resilient adults, poised to make it in a land colder than anything we’d ever known before. They didn’t kill us, so we made ourselves stronger. It may be the only good thing to ever come out of our painful past.

While we will be remembering, media across the country – of which I am a member – will also talk about this anniversary, which is a good thing. They will talk about the genocide as a political-historical event, they will wonder once more about the “official death toll number” – was it “really” 800,000 Tutsis murdered, or less than that? And the survivors? They will be wishing that their father or daughter were treated like more than a number to the world, for just this once.

After 19 years, tragedy fatigue might compel many to decide it’s time to move on. For us, however, it’s more than just another story. It’s about who we lost and what made us who we are, our daily battles with trauma, the never-ending dilemma of whether to share these stories with our children one day, and the eternal quest for a justice that will never be enough.

Remember with us so that what happened to our families and friends never happens again. Yes, the Rwandan genocide was carried out by our neighbours and people we knew, but please know that this is not just another African horror story. It had happened before us – in Europe – and it could happen anywhere again. The duty to remember is the price to pay to prevent this type of tragedy.

Remember with us, not because you must feel guilty as some often say – although some people at the UN probably should – but because we are a part of you and you are a part of us.

Alice Musabende is an Ottawa-based journalist and assignments editor for New Canadian Media. This commentary first appeared in the Globe and Mail.

Published in Commentary

by Marika Washchyshyn

Even before its planned opening in 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba has had its share of critics. They insist that the museum fails to adequately address certain aspects of its avowed aim to educate, promote awareness and increase dialogue about human rights.

One of the issues raised is that the Holocaust is being given undue prominence in deference to the Aspers, a wealthy Jewish family whose late patriarch Israel [Izzy] Asper launched the CMHR in 2003 as a private initiative. In 2008, an act of Parliament made it a national museum. At the centre of this controversy are the “genocide” galleries, which include information on the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Armenian massacre and the Ukrainian Holodomor famine of 1932-33 during which millions died.

A section of the Ukrainian community has been the most vocal on the issue, garnering major media attention and critical analysis of the museum’s contents. Roman Zakaluzny, chairman of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA), said Canadians will not get to see a fair representation of all such atrocities in the museum despite the fact that their tax dollars are now largely funding the project. [As of December 2011, Global News reported the total budget for the building and its exhibits was $351 million, with approximately $200 million of that coming from taxpayers.]

“This isn’t a private museum. Donations shouldn’t reflect content in a national museum,” said Zakaluzny. “No one community should have pride of place over another. The museum hasn’t provided enough evidence that all genocides will be treated equally. This isn’t just about the Ukrainian community.” To emphasize this, the UCCLA launched a postcard campaign showing people of various ethnic backgrounds fleeing the museum.

‘No hierarchy of genocides’

Angela Cassie, the director of communications and external relations at the CMHR, was quick to shoot down the accusation.

“There is no hierarchy [of genocides] here, and any suggestions of that is a gross misrepresentation of our intentions at the CMHR,” Cassie said. “Those comments divide, when our goal is to bring people together to recognize the humanity in others and take action for human rights.”

Cassie stressed that human rights violations and “reliving the past” were not the focus of the museum, but that the CMHR serves as an educational vehicle to promote understanding of human rights issues and draw lessons. She also said violations are not emphasized, and the museum is not a memorial or institution for comparing genocides.

“Even in our examination of the Holocaust, we’re looking at that broader concept, at all groups who were affected by the Nazi regime,” said Cassie. “We’re looking at what we can learn from these stages of genocide, and there are some very relevant stories for us to learn.”

New Canadian experience

The museum is much more than a display of crimes against humanity, and also contains content examining the experience of New Canadians, contends Cassie. The internment of Canadians during the First World War, including the Italians, Ukrainians, Poles and the Japanese, are some of the galleries the museum is commissioning to show Canadians these black marks in their nation’s history and how far removed they are today from those shameful episodes.

Cassie also noted the museum has worked with the Ukrainian community in bringing special guest lecturers from Ukraine to the museum, resulting in a memorandum of understanding between the CMHR and Ukraine’s National Holodomor Museum in Kiev last July.

“We are moving things forward in a very positive fashion with the Ukrainian community,” she said. “It’s about working in collaboration with these communities to make sure their stories are properly represented, and to make sure they understand exactly what a human rights museum is.”

Cassie highlighted the different ways Ukrainian content was integrated into the museum, including an inaugural feature film on the Holodomor. First World War internment, an interactive study table containing primary-source information on the Holodomor, the struggle by the Ukrainian-Canadian community to gain parliamentary recognition for the mass deaths and an analysis of Stalin’s “techniques of genocide” are among at least seven other exhibits displaying Ukrainian stories.

Not just Ukrainians

The Museum’s PR offensive has borne some fruit. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) decided to work with the CMHR after it resolved with the museum apprehensions about how the Holodomor was going to be covered. The UCCLA, however, remains unconvinced.

Other Canadian immigrant groups are also calling for more inclusive action by the CMHR. The CBC reported on March 4 that the Palestinian-Canadian community has become the newest group to take up issue with the museum.

“This proves that it’s not just Ukrainians who are unhappy with the museum’s content and layout, but Canadians across the country,” UCCLA’s Zakaluzny said. He cited a July 2012 Nanos Research poll (paid for by Canadians for Genocide Education and UCCLA) which showed 60 per cent of the approximately 1,200 people polled were in favour of a “one exhibit/all genocides” approach versus a “one gallery highlighting a particular genocide permanently” approach.

The UCCLA, in the meantime, has won another of its battles by securing a deal with the Government of Canada, Parks Canada and the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition fund for a permanent exhibit in the immediate vicinity of an internment camp for Ukrainians in Banff from 1914-1917. This recognition came after around 25 years of lobbying, when Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney acknowledged the need for restitution in 2008. - New Canadian Media

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in National
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Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image