Friday, March 20, 2015

Memorial to the Victims of Communism inappropriate

I have grave reservations about the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism, which some people want to build in the centre of downtown Ottawa, right on the doorstep of Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada.
The selected site, which is front and centre in the ceremonial heart of Canada's national capital, was initially earmarked for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Judiciary Building until current Prime Minister Stephen Harper (no fan of Trudeau or his legacy) cancelled it. Mr. Harper's Conservative government is, predictably, gung ho for the project; most others that have expressed an opinion are not.
It seems to me inappropriate that a partisan, politically-motivated and in-your-face monument of the size and scale proposed be sited right in the democratic and legislative nucleus of the country. Perhaps the victims of communism deserve a monument of some sort (although personally I am skeptical of the value of such gestures), as arguably do the victims of fascism, capitalism, religion and many other belief systems. But this is not a defining issue for this particular country, and it definitely does not memorialize something equally pertinent to all Canadians. I believe that locating it in such a central and symbolic position would give a skewed impression of Canada and its values and history.
Some of the machinations behind the scenes are also worth noting. The project is being financed by a somewhat shady (but apparently incredibly wealthy) non-profit organization called Tribute to Liberty, spearheaded by the Polish-Canadian financier Ludwik Klimkowski and run by a group of vehemently anti-Communist Canadians with roots in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union. The organization's raison d'ĂȘtre appears to be the exposĂ© of the repressive regimes of Soviet Russia and its puppet states, and has little to say about Canada per se.
And we are not talking here about some modest statue, like the US Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington D.C. This one is a city block in size, and incorporates a 12-metre high viewing structure, and a broad, ridged concrete form coated with 100 million squares (symbolically, one for each of the victims of Communist regimes).
There is plenty of opposition to the project. The National Capital Commission, which would normally be responsible for such strategic decisions in Ottawa, opposes it, but one Stephen Harper (who, predictably, is very much for it)  has moved responsibility for the decision to the much more amenable Ministry of Canadian Heritage. Ottawa's mayor is against it; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a group of 17 former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association are also against it; as are a broad swath of architects and urban designers, including the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Ontario Association of Architects.
The Tory government of the day, however, seem very much in favour, and they are not known for accommodation or compromise.

One of the early decisions by the new Liberal government that was elected in October 2015 was to redesign and scale down the proposed monument, to move it further west and away from the original in-your-face location by the Supreme Court, and to slash its budget from $5 million to $3 million. Finally, some common sense prevails.
Not long after (February 2016), came a similar common sense re-think of the equally controversial Mother Canada monument, planned by the Conservatives for a plumb spot in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

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