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Ukrainian congress presses Moore for clarity on Human Rights Musem

Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Winning design by Antoine Predock.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore needs to "come clean" before the May 2 federal election about the content of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress says.

The congress called for clarification after Moore told a Winnipeg Free Press columnist "there will be no permanent exhibits" in the museum after its official opening in the spring of 2013.

The group has been pressing both the government, which established the CMHR as a Crown corporation in 2008, and the CMHR board to install "a permanent and prominent gallery" in the museum dedicated to the 1932-33 Holodomor. During those years, the Congress says, the Soviet Union engineered the deaths of more than three million Ukrainians by starvation.

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In its literature, the CMHR says the completed museum, currently under construction in Winnipeg, will have 12 "zones," two of which will be dedicated to the Holocaust and "indigenous rights." Having two zones focused on what the museum's communications director calls "a community or event" has raised the ire of the UCC, along with other ethnic organizations. They argue that such a focus "elevates" the suffering of Jews and Canada's aboriginal peoples above that of other communities.

In a statement issued online in January to clear up various "misconceptions," the museum said the Holodomor "will be displayed permanently in the 'mass atrocity' zone immediately adjacent to the Holocaust zone. This zone will feature detailed information on the Holodomor and many other atrocities that have taken place worldwide ... "

However, after Moore met earlier this month with the CMHR board, he told Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett that "there will be no permanent exhibits. That was clear from [CMHR CEO]Stuart Murray [appointed by the Harper Conservatives in 2009]and the board." Lett published the comment April 11 and later that day, Moore's acting communications director James Maunder told The Globe and Mail: "No final decisions have been made on any permanent exhibits, or if there will be any."

In the UCC statement, Congress national president Paul Grod says Moore is "vacillating" on what he calls the earlier "vague assurances" that the Holodomor, as well as the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War under the first War Measures Act, would be "included in some permanent fashion" in the museum. Canadians "deserve to know the truth about this before election day," Grod says.

In an interview Monday, the museum's communications director, Angela Cassie, suggested that many of the tensions may be a matter of semantics. "Maybe 'permanent' wasn't the right word to use," she said. "What we've articulated to the minister is that just because the working titles of two particular zones are associated with a community or event in some way, this does not make them more permanent in nature than any other stories in the museum."

There's been a "misrepresentation" that the Holocaust and aboriginal issues "are the only two [permanent spaces]and that everything else is up for grabs ... temporary," she noted. In fact, "each space within the museum is going to have a wide variety of content and exhibits, most of which will be digitally driven ... All of our exhibits and all of our plans will be in constant, not necessarily day-to-day evolution, frequent evolution. So even in the Holocaust and aboriginal galleries, as additional research is done and more information is available, the content of the museum will be updated and added to."

Lubomyr Luciuk, research director for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that "no one objects to the updating, enhancing or improvement of any exhibit anywhere in the CMHR." But he noted that "either Moore is saying there are no permanent halls for anyone" – which, if true, is a position his organization agrees with, since it wants all 12 galleries to be "thematic, comparative and inclusive" – or "he is using language in such a manner as to confuse the public ... by confusing the terms 'zone' (or hall or room) with 'exhibit' (as in a glass display case ... or light-table display)."

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