The Canadian Museum FOR Human Rights stands for all human rights – An interview with Dr. Clint Curle

The Canadian Museum FOR Human Rights stands for all human rights – An interview with Dr. Clint Curle

By Tina Soulahian

Dr. Clint Curle is the Head of Stakeholder Relations at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  Prior to joining the museum in 2010, he was a professor at Carleton University’s Department of Law. He holds a PhD in Political Science, graduate degrees in Legal Studies and Theology, as well as an LLB (degree in law).

–    What is the mission of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights?

The mandate of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.

When it opens in 2014, it will be the first museum solely dedicated to the growth, celebration and future of human rights.  As the first national museum built outside the Capital Region, we hope it will be a source of Canadian pride and a beacon to visitors from around the world.


–       I noticed that the Museum’s name is different than other similar museum on human rights, whereas it stands for human rights and not of human rights. Was that decision to name the Museum in that light deliberate?

Identifying the museum as “The Canadian Museum FOR human rights” was a deliberate decision.   The museum is being designed to be a positive agent promoting human rights.  We would like our visitors to leave the museum more committed to human rights than they were before they entered.

 –       Our society in Canada is based on multiculturalism and tolerance. What kind of role do you think the Museum will play with regards to the ethnic richness and diversity our great nation is home to?

Canada is a very diverse society.  This is a real strength.  But we can ask – with all this difference, what holds us together?  One of the things that holds us together as Canadians is our shared commitment to human rights.  We may disagree on particular human rights issues, and as Canadians we need to be honest about the fact that we have sometimes failed to promote and protect human rights.  But overall, Canadians are committed to the idea of human rights – that every person has dignity and is worth respecting.   We need to grow in this commitment, we need to get better at it, but the ideal is there.  It is built into our self-image as Canadians.  We hope our museum can play a role in helping us all live up to that ideal.

 – How many galleries will the Museum feature and what can future visitors expect to see?

When we open in 2014, the museum will showcase 10 galleries, built around educational themes.

1.      Visitors will be immersed in a multimedia human-rights experience when they enter the physically dramatic surroundings of the introductory gallery and its remarkable “object theatre”. An undulating timeline presents a sweeping survey of human-rights concepts throughout the ages and around the world, with a special focus on Canada.

2.      Canada’s human rights journey forms the Museum’s central narrative, with a dedicated gallery that occupies its largest space. The gallery takes a multi-layered approach to more than 100 Canadian human-rights stories – from French-language rights to the Chinese head tax, from same-sex marriage to cultural dispossession in the North. A video theatre, image grid, floor game, story niches, performance spaces and activity areas encourage visitors to reflect upon their own experiences, and consider what others have accomplished and endured.

3.      Canadian challenges will also be examined in a gallery devoted to the legal aspects of human rights. An abstract “living tree” evokes the constant adaptation of Canadian laws to social change. A digitally interfaced “debate table” enables visitors to explore court cases from various perspectives, to encourage respect for others’ views.

4.      Aboriginal people are the focus of a gallery that presents indigenous concepts of humanity as a guide to the human-rights responsibilities of us all. This gallery includes a “basket theatre” made of curved wood slats representing the multitude of Canadian aboriginal communities and their distinct languages. An outdoor terrace will incorporate native plants and accommodate ceremonial burning of smudge and sweet grass.

5.      Breaking the silence on gross human-rights violations is a dominant theme. One gallery explores the oppressive role of secrecy and denial in atrocities around the world. It presents many global stories of genocide, with a focused examination of the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica genocide of the Bosnian War.

6.      The CMHR is not a memorial to victims, but references their stories to educate visitors about the importance of defending human rights. This is the goal of the Examining the Holocaust gallery, which poses questions about how and why such horror could occur. In a theatre resembling broken glass, visitors confront challenging new information relayed from a uniquely Canadian perspective. Touch-screen monitors explain the techniques of genocide and how to recognize its stages.

7.      The power of hope and hard work is showcased in a gallery that presents and explains the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the role of Canadian John Peters Humphrey. A pair of large, vertical monitors stand like two sides of an open book that relay the power of activism.

8.      A youth-oriented gallery will explore positive stories of human rights change, featuring Canadian initiatives.

9.      Human rights today are examined in a gallery that brings visitors face-to-face with contemporary human-rights struggles. Everyday objects are used to build connections to human rights, with an interactive wall map of ongoing global issues and a tapestry of human-rights defenders.

10.  The need for action is the theme of a gallery intended to spark a commitment to positive social change. It incorporates objects and images from real-life stories of change, and asks visitors to contribute their voices by leaving messages for others.


–       Will the recent objections made by His Excellency, Tuncay Babali, Ambassador Of The Republic Of Turkey To Canada, regarding the inclusion of the Armenian Genocide in the Museum’s galleries impact your decision?

 No.  As a Museum, we do not take positions on issues surrounding international trade and diplomacy.  Rather, our role is to promote and advance education about the importance of human rights, and to encourage and facilitate dialogue and reflection about human rights.  If our exhibits are going to spark healthy dialogue and reflection about human rights, they must be built on careful scholarship.  In the case of the Armenian genocide, our treatment of the topic is informed by the substantial body of scholarly investigation into the genocide. 


 – Have you encountered resistance from ethnic groups regarding other genocides or human rights violations?

Gross violations of human rights are almost always hotly contested.  Some scholars have even identified denial as the final stage of genocide.  But acknowledging such violations, dragging them into the light of day so we can understand them, and exploring how we can build a better world for the future is what the museum is all about. 

– Finally, in your opinion, how do you think the erection of a place dedicated to human rights will impact future Canadian generations and others around the world?

We believe we are building more than a museum – we are also helping to build global citizens who care for humanity. We hope to equip our visitors with the knowledge and conviction to stand up for the rights of everyone, for generations to come.  We’re building this Museum for our children and grandchildren, to help them understand the value of human rights.  Their passion to improve the world is our hope for the future.


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