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Winnipeg Sun | 11Apr2012 | David Asper

CMHR critics should back off Gail: Asper

As a public institution, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a legitimate object of scrutiny.

Canadians are entitled to know how their tax dollars are being spent and express a wide diversity of views about this project.

Sun Media has given particular voice to those who oppose a variety of aspects about the museum. Sun Media doesn’t like the project, which is completely within its editorial prerogative, and its coverage therefore is tilted in that direction. I have no problem with a newspaper adopting an editorial position and sticking with it. Indeed, I think such an editorial strategy is what kept the National Post in business while I was its Chairman, so I don’t take issue with the Sun’s editorial choices at all.

Where I dissent from Sun Media is its focus on my sister Gail as the demon of the museum project. Recently, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) redoubled its efforts to do the same thing by launching a postcard campaign opposing further funding for the museum. On the face of the postcard is a picture of my sister and Sun Media gave play to the story.

Something needs to be said in order to correct this situation.

As most people know, my father conceived of the museum project. After his death, my sister carried the torch in order to get the job finished. My family has donated $22 million to the project, which is unprecedented in Canadian history. No single business, family or individual has ever made such a gift to any federal museum -- ever.

The project was led by the private sector and a total of over $130 million has been raised, which again is unprecedented in Canadian history. No Canadian federal museum has ever received this kind of support from private donors.

The federal government assumed ownership and operational control of the museum more than five years ago, when it was formally designated as a national institution under the Museums Act. The federal government and its appointees are responsible for the project.

My sister is a member of the board of directors, but has no other role with the museum itself. She volunteers and gives up most of her life to fundraise in order to fill the gap between the amount of funding promised by the federal government and the cost escalation that occurred, as happens with many other projects of this scale.

But Gail is not in charge of the construction. Nor is she in charge of the finishing, exhibits or management of the project. All of that belongs to the federal government.

Demonizing her for the issues facing the museum is wrong and unfair. Regardless of individual views about the validity of the museum, that bridge has been crossed.

Opinions about the direction of the museum should focus on who can actually affect that outcome -- the federal government -- and not my sister.

One wonders about the legitimacy of advocates such as Lubomyr Luciuk and the UCCLA when they target an individual who drove the project, raised $130 million and then handed the project over to the federal government. It is perverse Gail Asper has become the poster child for Mr. Luciuk’s grievances in connection with the museum.

Criticism is fine. But it should also be rational and this ain’t.

— David Asper is chair of the board of the Asper Foundation

COMMENT by Lubomyr Luciuk:

Ms Asper has made herself the public spokesperson for the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and, in that role, has insinuated that some of those opposing the project are somehow prejudiced. We reject that smear. Our concern is rooted in the simple fact that neither the board on which Ms Asper sits, nor the CEO of this museum, have ever clarified precisely what the contents of this institution will be, despite many requests.

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (and in fact a majority of Canadians) do not want any community's suffering elevated above all others in this taxpayer funded national museum. UCCLA has repeatedly said that we want all of the museum's galleries to be thematic, comparative, and inclusive in their treatment of various human rights issues and stories. Anyone wanting to resolve the ongoing controversy about the CMHR need only tell us, once and for all, what the contents of this museum are really going to be. Why won't they?

Responses to criticism should be on point. Mr Asper's isn't.

Dr L Y Luciuk