The Canadian Museum of World Wrongs

The new Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg will document the Nazi Holocaust, the Rwandan massacres, the Cambodian killing fields, the deliberate starvation and execution of millions of Ukrainians during Stalin’s regime and other “mass atrocities” of the twentieth century, among them, one assumes, the Armenian Genocide, the induced famine in the People’s Republic of China, and ethnic unpleasantness in the Balkans.

Why is Canada building a “Museum of World Wrongs”? I do not know.

A letter in the National Post (January 14) recommends a permanent installation depicting wrongs done to women. Another asks us not to forget that an estimated 80 million Hindus were slaughtered during the Islamic occupation of India. A third says that between 1880 and 1900, Belgian overlords killed 10 million Congolese in their quest for rubber, the “Black Gold of the times.” On this blog, Angus MacDonald notes that under the direction of Kaiser Wilhelm One, German soldiers largely exterminated the Hottentots or Khoikoi people.

Originally the Museum was to have a Hall of Fame as well as a Hall of Shame. The Hall of Fame was to be a tribute to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, not only because he gave Canadians the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, but also because he modernized divorce and reformed the Criminal Code in 1967 by removing prohibitions against homosexuality and abortion.

Trudeau, an extraordinary man, to be sure, made decisions on rights issues about which Canadians are not of one mind. From the beginning The Canadian Museum of Rights – The Canadian Museum of Rights – a national monument – was meant to hold up to the world an idea of human rights not universally shared. What does the word “rights” mean in such a context?

And then there’s the fact – it is a minor matter, perhaps – that the Hall of Shame was  – and perhaps still is – intended to include Canadian “shames,” exhibits that will serve as a reminder to future generations of Canadian wrongs, among them the Chinese head tax passed in 1885; exclusion of all Chinese immigrants in 1947; refusal to allow a freighter with Sikh passengers to land in Canada in 1914; internment of Ukrainians, Italians and Japanese as enemy aliens; Canadian treatment of Aboriginals; the refusal to allow Jews as immigrants, etc.

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