Memorial to the victims of communism

22 February 2015

This is stretching the terms of our mandate a bit but a majority of the Board felt it was important and appropriate to join the chorus of comments protesting the dedication of a prime area on Parliament Hill to a memorial to the victims of communism.  Here is our letter.

Local heritage architect Barry Padolsky was out of the gate first, with an open letter to the Prime Minister before the winning design was even announced (Sep 1, 2014).

Among the many reactions that followed the announcement:

+ a statement by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (Feb 5)

+ an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen (Feb 6)

+  a comment by Mayor Jim Watson (Feb 10) and by Watson and Paul Dewar, MP-Ottawa Centre (Feb 11)

+ a letter from the Ontario Association of Architects (Feb 11); an Ottawa Citizen article (Feb 18); a video: CBC interview (Feb 24), 3’51”

another Open Letter by Barry Padolsky (Feb 20;  news article)

and numerous other news articles.  To date, in just the Citizen and the Globe and Mail, there have been 19 letters to the editor on this topic, all against the plan.

An interesting comparison of sizes of memorials of all kinds (1.9 MB), local and international, by local architect Rick MacEwen reveals that the one proposed for the Hill is way larger than any comparable memorial.

The story continued to gain much attention:

+ Liberal Party critic of Canadian Heritage Stéphane Dion on Feb 26 came out against the location of the memorial (Ottawa Citizen, Feb 27).  An article printed on Feb 27 also disclosed that the designers had slightly reduced the size of one part of the memorial.  Available on the web site is a pre-press conference article dated Feb 24.

+ In response to a question by MP Paul Dewar, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Heritage Minister, Rick Dykstra, denied that there had been no consultation. The article appeared only in print, on Feb 28.

+ The CBC’s The National on March 1 had a story (2’14”), with clips from Shelley Glover, Toon Dreessen, Paul Dewar, Stéphane Dion and Pierre Poilièvre.

+ The Canadian Institute of Planners joins the chorus opposing location – Ottawa Citizen, March 5, 2015.

+ A major article by Don Butler, and several (one, two) additional pieces, spread over four pages in the Ottawa Citizen of March 7.

+ Joanne Chianello, in the same paper, also chimed in.

+ In addition to four more letters to the editor in the past week (some for, some against), Andrew Cohen offered his insight in the Ottawa Citizen of March 11: “… a monumental folly conceived in cynicism.”  He mentions that there is a Change.org petition.  It was launched by University of Ottawa students and has attracted almost 1500 signatures to date.  They also created a Facebook page. (Update, March 26: 3,075 signatures to date.)

+ March 13 – In an article in today’s Metro that is mostly about Phase 2 of the LRT, Minister Pierre Poilièvre also comments on the memorial and is quoted as saying: “…as for the location, listen, I think that the alternative is yet another government building … I don’t have any of my constituents calling my office and saying that we need to put another government building on that particular spot“.  He repeated this claim, apparently at an event in Sandy Hill, as quoted in an article by Jordan Press in the Ottawa Citizen of March 26.  As subscribers to the GA List know, that’s a lie!  The same quote appears in an article in the Globe & Mail dated 25 March that didn’t make it in print.

+ March 18 – Not to be missed: Rick Mercer’s rant (video), “The Monument Men.”  Says Rick: “…everything about this story is completely bizarre.

+ March 19 – The Globe and Mail today devoted three articles, including its double-page Folio, to the controversy.  Bill Curry found that the Tribute to Liberty charity has declared to the CRA for each of the past five years that it has not engaged in any political activity and has passed a CRA audit “with flying colours.”  Architecture critic Alex Bozokovic recaps the site selection process and reviews the design (mushed into one article on the web site; with interactive map of a walk along Wellington Street).  Chair of the Tribute to Liberty charity is quoted as saying: “It’s a process. Stay tuned. We are not in the business of not listening to the voices that are being expressed.”

+ The Ottawa Citizen’s Don Butler (March 19), via Access to Information, dug up a 2009 report from a committee of experts who opined that a memorial to the victims of communism did not really meet the requirements of the NCC’s commemoration policy because it is not a central theme in Canadian history.  It recommended approval anyway. The committee was disbanded shortly thereafter. The only concession the promoters made was to add the tag line “Canada, a land of refuge.”

+ March 20 – An absolutely hilarious cartoon by Gable and a poignant letter to the editor (among four) by George Haeh of Lethbridge, Alberta, in today’s Globe and Mail:

It seems a little too facile to memorialize victims of a safely far-away government when our own government seemingly turns its back on Canada’s victims.

For example, our Plains Indians were subjected to starvation in the 19th century to open the land to European settlement. More recently, generations of Indian children suffered in the residential school system; many of their children and grandchildren remain victims today as the harm cascades through generations.

Today, where is the government’s concern about missing or murdered aboriginal women, about ensuring that all remains are identified – a failure to care that goes all way to the top.

Perhaps we should first memorialize the victims of our own governments.

+ March 23 – The NCC’s CEO replied to our letter in a letter dated March 17.  The reply notes that the Parliamentary Precinct is in the hands of Public Works and Government Services, “which is also the landowner”.  The Department wrote to the NCC in March 2013, advising it that the land in question would change from building site to monument site.  A handwritten note from CEO Kristmanson adds: “Thanks for your letter.  One of our concerns with the current design of the monument is its treatment of ‘greenspace,’ which is being addressed through the federal design approval process.

+ March 26 – Seventeen former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association signed an open letter, “This monument puts justice under a shadow,” published in the Globe & Mail of 26 March.

+ March 29 – A long editorial in the Globe & Mail asks: “A monument to what, exactly?” (print version, March 30; on the web site it’s entitled “The Victims of Communism Memorial: Right idea, wrong place”).  The editorial concludes that it is “a well-meaning tribute to victims of communism that has been appropriated by the Conservative government as a prop in its constant effort to cast itself as tough on evil and on evildoers.

+ April 1 – Minister Glover replied to our letter. No new information.

+ May 2 – CEO Mark Kristmanson’s reply to our letter alluded to the federal design review process.  Based on comments by the CEO at the previous day’s NCC Board meeting, an article by Don Butler in the Ottawa Citizen of 23 April confirms that this process could delay construction.  The design will come to the Board in either June or September; if the latter it is unlikely that construction will begin this year.  An accompanying article on the same page by Butler reveals the specific objections the NCC’s advisory committee expressed between February and August 2014.  As well, an attempt by the NCC to have the government announce the site as “intended” did not succeed.  A bonus article, again by Butler on the same page tells of an Environics survey of 1500 adults in the NCR last fall.  It reveals that many people are unaware of the change in the NCC’s mandate imposed by the government in 2013.  For example, 42 percent thought that the NCC was still responsible for Winterlude.

+ Andrew Seymour, in the Ottawa Citizen of May 1, quoted Pierre Poilièvre, speaking at a rally of more than 500 people on the site, as saying: “It is shameful that the Liberals and the NDP have come out against building this monument at this site, and it is shameful that some in the media have done the same.”

+ A column by Joanne Chianello in the Ottawa Citizen of May 2 highlights the two faces of MP Pierre Poilièvre, now the Minister responsible for the NCC and our region — supportive of the city when it comes to investments in infrastructure, but stubbornly partisan about, for instance, the memorial to the victims of communism.  Says Chianello: “Maybe that sort of hyperbole is par for the course for politics. Maybe he’ll grow out of it?”  Let’s hope so.

Articles, letters to the editor, polls, they just keep coming:

+ Don Butler in the Ottawa Citizen of May 7 reports that the NCC’s Advisory Committee on Planning, Design and Realty will consider the memorial’s design at its meeting that week.

+ Nadine Blumer, a post-doctoral fellow at Concordia University, in an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen of May 9, compares the controversy around this memorial with the silence around the Holocaust Memorial set to be erected on LeBreton Flats.

+ Defence Minister Jason Kenney is quoted in Metro of May 13 as saying that the memorial is a “suitable” tribute. “I’d rather have a park on that lot, with a monument on the back of it as a public space as opposed to yet another downtown office tower,” echoing Minister Poilièvre’s earlier statement that he didn’t hear a popular desire for a building full of lawyers.

+ In a May 22 letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen, Peter Fedirchuk of Ottawa, whose parents suffered under Stalin, proposes that the memorial be placed in Strathcona Park, facing the Russian Embassy.

+ Elisabeth Payne, in the Citizen of May 25, reports on a Canada-wide EKOS poll showing that 78% opposed the memorial; 83% in the national capital region.  Even 63% of self-identified Conservatives opposed it.  A national library and a monument to the injustices against Aboriginal peoples were top choices.  Joanne Chianello devoted her column on it on May 26 as well. The full list of questions is on the Citizen’s blog, which has a further link to the EKOS web site for the full report.  The poll was based on 2,116 on-line respondents (340 in the NCR), held May 12-19.

+ On the same page as Chianello’s column, Lee Berthiaume reports that Ministers Jason Kenney and Shelly Glover were standing firm in the face of all this opposition.

+ On May 27, on a motion by Councillor Nussbaum, seconded by Councillor McKenney, City Council voted 18 to 6 to formally ask the federal government to move the memorial. The Nays were from Councillors Moffatt, Qaqish, Chiarelli, Hubley, Mitic and Darouze. Joanne Chianello’s column on May 28 discussed it. She notes that City Council has full rights to intervene, given that the memorial plans contradict the Long Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary and Judicial Precincts that emerged from broad consultation and was updated and approved by the federal government in 2006.

+ Letters to the editor keep coming (some favouring the monument, most not), including one on May 30 from Mary VanBuskirk in Ottawa which was accompanied by a lovely picture of a chapel in Vidin, Bulgaria, on the Danube riverbank, that is dedicated to the victims of communism.  She would “rather have that, than the massive, vulgar monstrosity being proposed”.

+ September 6 – Conservative MP Royal Galipeau believes there is “wiggle room” in the choice of the site for the monument (Don Butler in the Citizen of June 8).

+ On June 10, Lyette Fortin, former House of Commons director of architecture strategic planning, and Robert Allsopp, an urban designer who helped prepare the 1987 Long Term Vision and Plan for the parliamentary and judicial precincts, held a joint lecture at City Hall. (Don Butler provided a preview in the Citizen of June 8.)  The Council Chambers were filled to capacity.

Spotlight on the NCC:

+ The NCC’s Board of Directors would meet on June 25 but its agenda was being kept secret.  Notes Don Butler (June 22): “The NCC has been doing its best to distance itself from the memorial project, referring almost all questions to Canadian Heritage, which assumed responsibility for commemorations from the NCC in 2013.”  Kayla Margaret, who started a petition on Change.org that by now had gathered some 5,000 signatures, asks in a June 23 update: “Will there be a vote?”

+ June 23 – The Citizen reports on an Open Letter to NCC Board Chair Russell Mills from a coalition comprising the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Ontario Association of Architects, the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, Canadian Architect, and Heritage Ottawa (Blair Crawford, June 23; Michael Woods, Metro). “The parliamentary and judicial precincts are not a playground for the whim of the moment,” the letter says.  “Canadians value their Parliament and their courts.” An Open Letter to all members of the Board followed the next day.

+ The day before the NCC Board meeting, about 25 people took a stroll down Wellington Street to express their opposition the location of the memorial (reported in Metro).

+ Also that day it was reported (Tyler Dawson, Citizen) that four members of the NCC Board, whose term of appointment had long expired, were stepping down and five new Board members were appointed. Two stepped down effective the June 25 meeting. (One of those, former Ottawa Mayor Jacquelin Holzman, was said to have stated that her term was to expire in November; she later corrected herself, saying that she was serving at pleasure and could therefore be asked to step down immediately.)  See also Bill Curry in the Globe & Mail.

+ The big news at the Board meeting was that the memorial had shrunk: covering 37% of the site instead of the previous 60% (and promised to go down to 33%); five “Memory Folds” instead of seven; the highest point down to 8 m, from 14; the footbridge 5 m high instead of 11; and hidden from the street behind a berm and trees.  But the work — decontamination — should start this summer (Tom Spears, Citizen).  Lots of other commentary and related coverage: Kelly Egan (“NCC is just head waiter to the federal cabinet”); a portrait of the five new Board members; another story about the NCC’s plans for new military monuments; and an editorial in the Citizen, welcoming the new Board members and talking about little else than the memorial. Similar coverage in the Globe & Mail, Ottawa SunMetro and the Metroland papers – Emma Jackson, who also reports that Councillor Nussbaum found the decision to proceed with decontamination “discouraging.”

+ That evening the NCC Board held its annual Public Meeting.  Ten people were given an opportunity to ask questions; five were on the memorial controversy.  The NCC said a decision on the design would not come before the Fall.

The controversy rages on:

+ The day after the NCC Board meeting (June 26), the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Heritage Ottawa, Barry Padolsky and Shirley Blumberg applied for an injunction to block further work on the memorial (Citizen, Globe & Mail).  Here is the court application. They soon received assurance that no ground would be broken for at least two weeks and if it would happen later, they’ll be told so that they can proceed with the injunction application (Citizen, July 3).

+ More commentary on the design from Kelly Egan (June 29): “The camel that was to be a horse is now a goat.”  The life-size victim that would lie face-down in front of the Folds is gone.  And an op-ed from Andrew Cohen (July 2), “A memorial to the politics of nastiness.”  Quote: “…the memorial is a metaphor for this government itself – unapologetically ideological, relentlessly political, reliably undemocratic.”  Citizen columnist Mark Sutcliffe (July 3) challenges the Minister responsible for the NCC: “This is a test for Pierre Poilièvre: can he set aside his partisan instincts and become more of a conciliator and consensus-builder, or will he continue to be a champion for his government rather than his community? The early signs are not encouraging.

+ CBC’s Day 6 program on July 4 also covered  the story: Brent Bambury talks with three Canadians, including Gabor Maté, who have fled communism (12 min).

+ On July 13 Shannon Gormley opines in the Citizen that the Memorial to Victims of Communism is monumentally ironic because it resembles the style of authoritarian rulers who also love ostentatious and costly monuments and don’t let public opinion get in the way.

+ Another poll (National Post, July 13) queried Canadians about the Memorial to Communism and the idea of a gigantic Mother Canada statue in Cape Breton (no sample size disclosed, but the margin of error is said to be 1.96% with undisclosed probability). Of those expressing an opinion on the Ottawa case (the report does not say how many did), 77% expressed disapproval, of whom 53% strongly  disapproved.

+ The Citizen reveals on July 14 that the Czech and Latvian governments have donated respectively $20,000 and $14,000 to Tribute to Liberty, giving Minister Poilièvre a chance to gloat.

+ Finally, what the town has been waiting for: “NCC approval of memorial postponed to after election” (Don Butler, August 7, the Citizen).  In an August 5 letter, CEO Mark Kristmanson confirms that the design approval will not be on the agenda of the Board’s September meeting but instead come up in November.

+ August 17 – Not relenting, the Citizen obtained 215 pages of documents under access to information, telling some of the back story of how this file percolated through the Commission.  “There was really no choice but to approve what had already been announced” wrote Chair Russell Mills in an February 10, 2015 email.  (Don Butler, August 17)  Rubbish, responds Kelly Egan on August 29: “When does the NCC draw a line in the sand? And is that line not the messing up of Canada’s most prominent street? …One gets the distinct impression that, with a little delay here and there — this is Ottawa, after all, where there’s no time like later — the NCC is hoping Oct. 19 will resolve everything.

+ A day later Don Butler reports that the government’s contribution now is expected to be $4.2 million, up from the previously reported $3 million.  Tribute to Liberty’s fundraising goal would be halved, to $1.26 million.

+ Matt Harrison, senior editor of Ottawa Magazine, writes in the September 2015 issue that this memorial “is a clear-cut case of Conservative revisionism that will rewrite important aspects of the Canadian identity.

+ On September 18, the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Butler reports that, last August, Hungary quietly contributed $121,000 to the Victims of Communism project.  On September 24, a letter to the editor points out that, in 1956, Canada opened its doors to 37,000 Hungarians but that the current Hungarian government is now erecting a razor wire fence to keep refugees out.

+ A Canadian Press story, distributed widely in late September (including on the front page of Ottawa Metro on September 28) also reveals the objections raised by the NCC’s advisory committee on planning, design and realty.

+ At an all-candidates meeting in Ottawa-Vanier on October 6, Elisabeth Payne reports, “The largest cheer was reserved for [Maurice] Bélanger’s vow that the victims of communism monument ‘must not be built’ where the Conservative government wants it”.

And then we had an election

A day after the October 19 election, newly elected MPs Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre) and Anita Vandenbeld stated that public consultations are needed to determine a different site for the monument.  (Don Butler, October 21.) The article also reports that the matter will not be on the agenda of the NCC’s November Board meeting.  Pressing on, Barry Padolsky is reported to have stated that the new government should commission an independent report examining how the policies for planning the parliamentary precinct were “arbitrarily overturned to serve a partisan political and ideological agenda.”

+ An October 26 opinion piece by Jonathan McLeod in the Ottawa Citizen lists four priorities for Ottawa’s MPs, including moving and defunding the Memorial. An editorial the same day (not found on the web) agrees: “The incoming Liberal government now has the opportunity to give the memorial the critical attention it deserves.  At the very least, it should be moved to a more suitable location, away from such a prime site in the heart of the capital.”

+ The following day the Citizen’s Matthew Pearson reports that Mayor Watson had a blunt talk with the backers of the Memorial the previous Friday, telling them that the project should be put on hold. “I told them that continuing (to push) this site made them tone-deaf,” the paper reports.  In the Tribute to Liberty’s version (on Facebook), it was a “very productive” meeting where the two sides “exchanged ideas and discussed steps of further co-operation.”

+ On November 6, Joanne Chianello reports that new Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly hopes to make “a prompt decision” on the file.

+ November 12 – Mayor Jim Watson met with Minister Joly for 45 minutes who again promises to “take a decision promptly.”  Watson said he and Joly had a “very good discussion” on the victims of communism monument. Earlier in the day Joly had had a breakfast meeting with Min. Catherine McKenna.  McKenna would meet with Watson the next day.  (Butler in the Citizen; Michael Woods in Metro.)

+ Roy MacGregor profiles Barry Padolsky, “Canada’s Monuments Man wins one for justice,” in the Globe and Mail of November 14.

+ December 4 – A Global news report, repeated in the Citizen, citing unnamed sources, claims that the new government has decided not to fund the Memorial, nor the Mother of Canada statue proposed for Cape Breton (Ottawa Citizen).  The chair of Tribute to Liberty, Ludwik Klimkowski, withholds comment until he gets “solid information.”

+ A December 11 editorial in the Globe and Mail is entitled “Monumental errors that need to be fixed.” It argues that the Liberal government could have rejected the “unwanted monuments” (Victims of Communism, Mother of Canada) outright but instead ‘they have been strangely tentative in their deliberations, as if these were two well-loved memorials that had compelling reasons for disfiguring the national landscape.”

+ A week later, on December 18, Don Butler reports that the government has decided to support the memorial, but it will “cost far less, have a new design and, if built, will be on a different site.”  The government will hold a national competition and the budget has been scaled back to $3 million, from $5.5 million, with a maximum government contribution of $1.5 million if the proponents can raise the matching funds.  Barry Padolsky called the decision “a happy day for the national capital.”  The Royal Architectural Institute said it was “relieved.”  Peter Van Loon, Heritage critic for the Conservatives, said he was disappointed that the memorial will be delayed until 2018.  (Also in Metro and the Globe and Mail.)

+ One letter writer to the Globe and Mail,  (December 21)  says “I’m a Canadian citizen. That makes me a ‘stakeholder’ in the proposed monument. … An inclusive theme for the monument would be the victims of racism, totalitarianism, genocide and dictatorship.”  The next day, another letter writer says “I’m a stakeholder … too, and my advice … is to scrap this misguided initiative as a frivolous spending of taxpayers’ money.”

+ December 23 – Don Butler provides more detail about the funds available to Tribute to Liberty.  Canadian Heritage gave the group $300,000.  Its latest CRA filing (2014/15) shows assets of $883,412, including the government money, up from $573,285 a year earlier.  Its expenditures were just $54,717, down from $200,000 the year before.  The group’s chair said he was not certain whether the money received from the government could be counted towards the revised $1.5 million fundraising objective.

+ January 20, 2016 – In an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, Andrzej Caruk, past member of Friends of Solidarity (Poland) and Black Ribbon Day Society (International), argues that we have a moral duty to commemorate the victims of communism, and not allow communism’s evil to remain hidden and forgotten.

+ February 3 – Don Butler reports in the Ottawa Citizen that the federal government will seek public input about the issue.  The following day he reports that the survey is hard to findHere is what to do:

1- Go to: <http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1443025436163/1443025436165>

2- Scroll down and click on <have your say>

That brings you to the survey.  You’ll find it biased in that it assumes that the Monument will be built.  Only at the very end is there an opportunity to provide open-format comments.

The deadline is February 16.

+ On a related issue, the Globe and Mail reports on February 6 that the ‘Mother Canada’ monument proposed for Green Cove, Cape Breton, will not be built on Parks Canada land. (Also a Canadian Press story, found in the Ottawa Citizen.)

+ February 11 – Former MP for Ottawa Centre, Paul Dewar, suggests in the Ottawa Citizen that the memorial to communism should be ditched altogether.  Instead we should build a National Aboriginal Centre on Victoria Island, as per the late William Commanda’s vision.  Six days later, Irene Tomaszewski, herself a victim of communism, takes issue with Dewar calling communism “an idea,” seemingly ignoring what it meant in practice.  Still, she is opposed to the memorial, suggesting instead that the funds should be used to establish a centre for the study of totalitarian regimes.  “Ditch the communism memorial and educate instead” she concludes.

+ April 7 – Don Butler in the Ottawa Citizen reports that, back in June 2015, the NCC’s Chair and CEO decided to sever design approval from decontamination of the site.  The June Board meeting approved only the latter because the design was “simply not ready.”  It was a decision the federal government only reluctantly went along with.   Comment: The NCC was not the “headwaiter” some accused it of at the time.

+ April 23 – Jon Willing in the Ottawa Citizen reports that more than 8,500 people have responded to the call for advice on the Memorial; almost half lived in the national capital region.  A few days later, on April 28, the NCC Board of Directors agreed on a new site, adjacent to the Garden of the Provinces and Territories.  Next will be approval of urban design guidelines and finally, after completion of a new national design competition, final design approval. Here is the NCC staff report (3MB), including complete results of the survey.