Women’s advocates lobby for voice
Human-rights museum panel seeks advice on issues to highlight
By Andrea Sands, Edmonton Journal
November 16, 2009 7:16 AM
When officials from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights visit Edmonton this week, an Edmonton mother will push for an exhibit to highlight women’s rights.
Kathy King, whose daughter, Caralyn, was found dead 12 years ago in a Sherwood Park canola field, has been eagerly awaiting a chance to speak to museum representatives about the human rights of women. She will get that chance on Tuesday when the museum’s content advisory committee stops here on its cross-country tour to gather opinions on what the museum should ultimately look like.
“It’s so incredibly ambitious, all the things that they’re planning, so this is exciting,” King said Sunday. “I’m pleased that they’re finally coming here. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a couple of years.”
King will join Kate Quinn, executive director of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton, in urging the museum to permanently display an art exhibition called A Roomful of Missing Women, a multimedia show that features paintings of 50 women from Vancouver’s downtown eastside who are missing or have been murdered.
“We have talked about this for a couple of years, ever since I heard they were doing a museum for human rights,” King said. “I thought, OK, whose human rights have been violated across history and across the world more than the rights of women? I thought, isn’t this a good opportunity to create that awareness at a national level.”
The meetings and roundtable talks Tuesday at Grant MacEwan University are part of an effort to gather personal stories to guide the design of the $310-million museum, slated to open in Winnipeg in 2012.
Longtime human-rights activist and educator, Lewis Cardinal, has also been invited to meet with museum officials. Cardinal has won the Alberta Centennial Medal for his work in human rights and diversity. He is on the board of directors for the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights and does work with The Global Youth Assembly. Cardinal also works with numerous advocacy groups and is co-chairman of the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice and a founder of Racism-Free Edmonton, a city project to end racism and discrimination.
Cardinal said he wants the museum to include exhibits on aboriginal and treaty rights within Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. It should also address immigrants’ rights, such as the rights of temporary foreign workers, many of whom have made their way to Alberta, Cardinal said.
“The museum itself has to be a showcase of our rights and history and the violation of those rights, but also, what is the future of Canada in human rights,” he said, noting that designers will bring theatre and art into the space. “It’s not a dusty museum of remembrance, but it’s a living, dynamic reality, and that’s what I want to see in this museum.” He described the beautiful spire–the tower of hope–that will crown the building and give a wide view of Winnipeg. “It should inspire, and we should aspire to the values of human rights,” Cardinal said. “That’s what I like about it.”
Angela Cassie, the museum’s director of communications and public engagement, said the museum’s physical design is meant to empower people to see beyond human rights failures and educate them on how to advance human rights in their communities. “We hope to also be able to inspire them with examples of people who have survived, people who have succeeded, people who have achieved and made a difference,” Cassie said.
The museum’s content advisory committee –made up of human rights scholars, specialists and leaders–started the public consultation sessions in May, and will visit 18 communities before the tour ends in February.
In Edmonton, approximately 50 people and groups so far have registered to participate, Cassie said. Museum officials will also hold public roundtables from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“Whether it be issues of religion, whether it be issues of gender or orientation or language or economic and poverty issues–those are all topics that fall under the umbrella of human rights,” Cassie said.
The 47,000 square-foot museum is the first national museum established in more than 40 years, and the first to be located outside the National Capital Region. The project will include exhibits related to Indian residential schools, Japanese internment camps and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Cassie said. Migration, as well as challenges for people with disabilities are other human-rights topics that have been raised across the country, she said.