While work has begun addressing the culture of racism and discrimination at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a new report finds it still bears an "everyday" impact for Black and Indigenous employees.
The Phase 2 report released Monday — intended to follow up on recommendations outlined in August 2020, after a review of the Winnipeg-based museum’s structures and culture — is composed of 35 interviews with employees working at all levels of the museum from October 2020 onward.
While the document prepared by external reviewer Laurelle Harris praised CMHR chief executive officer Isha Khan and the work of the executive management team in developing the skills needed to promote equity, it found the capacity to lead anti-racism and anti-oppression efforts is "not currently well-developed."
"Even when not directly related to systemic oppressions per se, weaknesses in leadership have nevertheless allowed those systemic oppressions to persist, with a disproportionate impact on current and former marginalized staff, whose lives, physical health, mental health, and financial well-being have also been disproportionately impacted," Harris wrote.
"Management does not appear to have sufficient knowledge of foundational concepts about racism."
It also includes two sexual harassment complaints not previously disclosed and a pattern of "gendered racism" aimed at Black male employees, who reported being sexualized and fetishized or stereotyped as "dangerous" and "predatory."
The 81-page report found a "significant" number of employees believe there has not been enough accountability from executive managers who contributed "both actively and passively" to a work environment that allowed racism and other oppressions to persist.
Supervisory staff, in one example, referred to the fight against racism as a "soft skill," the report found, implying it was less important than other "hard skills" for which the employee had been hired.
The 2020 review declared "pervasive and systematic" racism at the federal museum, in the wake of dozens of allegations from current and former staff, including sexual harassment, homophobia and censorship.
Khan, who began a five-year term in August after John Young’s resignation, said she feels "good" about the work staff and executive members have undertaken so far.
"I think we’re making progress. I think we’re making change and it takes time, and I knew that it would take time but I’m certainly not doing it alone. I’m doing it with a whole team of people so the work for us is making sure everyone takes responsibility and everyone sees themselves in the work," Khan said in a phone call Monday.
In the new report, Indigenous and Black museum employees reported "everyday" instances of racism and colonialism at the museum that affected both hiring and retention of staff.
While the CMHR hired two new managers in March, one a person of colour and both members of the LGBTTQ+ community, the report found no Black or Indigenous people at the executive management level, and a "clear and significant underrepresentation of racialized and Indigenous employees" in all areas.
Khan said the interest in senior team member positions has been "overwhelming," but diversifying the executive team will take time.
"We will develop a representative workforce, but we have to be thoughtful about it because we don’t want to tokenize," she said.
While Khan noted the instances of racism and targeted and racialized sexual harassment described in the report is "disturbing," the museum is "on a path" to change.
Employees have undergone more than 4,000 hours of training, developed a new visitor code of conduct, and sparked four staff-led committees that provide space for conversations around equity and inclusion at the museum, Khan said.
The report found no new instances of hiding LGBTTQ+ content from select tour visitors since seven such incidents in 2015 and 2017.
Still, the report found members of the LGBTTQ+ community remain underrepresented in middle and executive management.
The Phase 2 report included an additional 15 recommendations, including an emphasis on recruitment and retention of Black and Indigenous employees and an audit of the human resources department.
In a memo to staff Monday, Khan noted CMHR has begun work on some of those recommendations, including developing processes to investigate sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.