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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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Feds, province rescue human rights museum

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The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is currently under construction in Winnipeg. [Myron Love photo]

WINNIPEG — Supporters of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) – whose outer shell is nearly complete – are breathing a sigh of relief now that the federal and provincial governments have come forward with long-term loans and loan guarantees.

While its physical structure will be finished next year as planned, the museum faced the distinct possibility that its doors would not open as planned in 2014 –already a year behind the museum’s original building schedule – due to a cash shortfall of about $35 million.

It had looked quite likely that the opening could have been delayed indefinitely.

When the late media mogul Israel Asper first proposed the project in 2003, the plan called for a $200-million structure to be completed in three to four years. The most recent projection put the final construction bill at $351 million.

So far, the federal government has contributed $100 million toward building the first national museum outside Ottawa, and it has pledged to provide $21.7 million a year in operating costs. Last November, the government rejected a request from the museum’s board for more funding.

The province has provided $40 million for construction costs, while the city of Winnipeg has kicked in $20 million.

“We are very excited about the governments’ proposed solutions to our budget shortfall,” said Kathi Neal, director of communications  and marketing for the Friends of CMHR. “That will allow us to open as scheduled in 2014 and gives us cost certainty.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Ottawa is providing the museum with an interest-free loan that will be repaid through savings in the museum’s operating budget and from revenues after the museum is opened. The province is kicking in with a loan guarantee for the Friends of the CMHR.

The Friends group – led by Asper’s daughter, Gail Asper – has generated $130 million in private donations and is working toward raising another $20 million.

The total amount of the loans and loan guarantees could be as high as $70 million, sources told the Winnipeg Free Press.

The second vexing question for the CMHR, after financial concerns, has been an ongoing campaign by certain elements in the Canadian Ukrainian community – led by Lubomyr Luciuk and his Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association – for the Holodomor to be given equal space with the Holocaust in the museum.

The Holodomor was the death by starvation in 1932-33 of an unknown number of Ukrainians – estimates run from 1.8 to 12 million – who resisted Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s farm collectivization program.

The original plan called for a separate gallery for the Holocaust, based on the role it played in the postwar development of international human rights bodies and legislation. The Holodomor was to be included as part of a gallery that would cover several other examples of mass murder.

The museum hopes that a memorandum of understanding signed in early July between Stuart Murray, president and CEO of the CMHR, and Victor Didenko, CEO of the Memorial in Commemoration of Famines’ Victims in Ukraine, will put an end to that controversy.

“The agreement pledges that our organizations will collaborate to promote human rights though education and example,” said Angela Cassie, the museum’s director of communications and external relations.

 “By raising awareness of the Holodomor, the genocide-famine created by the Soviet Union in Ukraine in 1932-33, we hope to remind people the importance of breaking the silence on human rights issues,” Murray said in a statement.

“This partnership will help bring the story of the Holodomor to a wider audience, to the benefit of generations to come.”

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