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Human rights museum criticized, employees say work environment racist


WINNIPEG — The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will conduct an external review following social media posts alleging a racist and discriminatory work environment.

"We recognize we have both a responsibility and an obligation to listen and learn from those who have shared their experiences," John Young, the museum's president, said Thursday.

"We take them very seriously and acknowledge their frustration. It's apparent in the messaging they shared."

The Winnipeg museum posted images of a Justice for Black Lives rally in the city last Friday on its Facebook page. People who say they are current and former employees began responding that it was hypocritical because of racism they faced working at the museum.

One person said she worked at the museum for four years and experienced the most racism she'd ever seen in her life.

Other people online shared stories about Black or Indigenous employees being used by management to show diversity to donors. They also spoke about some visitors to the museum being racist and employees having no support.

Young responded in a post online, saying it's not enough for the museum to make statements opposing racism.

"We must identify shortcomings and blind spots, both within ourselves as individuals and within the museum, and take concrete steps to improve," he said.

Young said the museum will reach out to staff and volunteers who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour to listen to their experiences and concerns.

The museum will also hire an external organization to do an audit of its workplace practices and policies. Young said changes cannot just come from the top and the museum will work with employees to improve.

"There are very high expectations for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights."

Some people posting online said they are skeptical of the museum's response. Some also called for a review of Black content at the museum.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union that represents staff at the museum, said these issues have been raised with management since 2018.

Marianne Hladun, executive vice-president for the Prairie region, said in a news release Thursday that museum management rejected proposals to have anti-harassment training for all staff.

"It is not enough for any institution, never mind a museum dedicated to human rights, to make statements opposing racism while continuing to allow a toxic culture that harasses people of colour and makes them feel worthless."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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