Canada's Human Rights Museum

Canada’s Human Rights Museum – Concealed Genocides


Canada’s Human Rights Museum

During the creation of Canada’s Human Rights Museum (CHRM), many groups became divided on what should and should not be included in the museum. The Ukraine Society was outraged when they realized that the Holocaust would have its own exhibit. They felt that they were being treated as “second-class citizens” and that the Holocaust was overshadowing their genocide.[1]

The museum stood by their decision of having the Holocaust as its own exhibit and officially opened in 2014, arguing that the Holocaust is unique because it brought on a human rights (HR) conscience. However, this decision caused five other events to share an exhibit leaving the impression that they are less important.

The museum’s decision to have the Holocaust as the center focus overshadows and conceals other genocides.

Having the Holocaust as its own exhibit is defended by declaring it as unique because it has inspired the development of international human rights policies. Catherine Chatterley author of “The War Against the Holocaust,” writes that it was because Hitler’s crimes against the Jewish people that the western world produced various human rights laws, charters, and declarations. [2]

This created a new political conscience involving Human Rights, as well as new terms to describe what had happened. Genocide, the word associated with the act of killing a large group of people, was first developed during the Nazi regime by a Polish Jewish jurist, Raphael Lemkin, who had lost 49 members of his family in the Holocaust. [3]

Overall, many argue that the Holocaust is central to the development of human’s rights and therefore deserve to have a prominent place in the museum.

Supporters of the Holocaust exhibit argue that the Holocaust has become completely embedded within Human Rights. Chatterley attributes the current cultural obsession with racism, genocide, and HR to the Holocaust.[4] This is because the focus on the Holocaust has developed the study of other human rights violations that may have otherwise been ignored.

The museum states that it is not attempting to say that individual Jews suffered more than other groups, but instead, it is demonstrating that some crimes are more revealing and consequential than others. [5] The Holocaust created a general conversation and interest into other human right violations. Therefore, without the Holocaust, human rights activism may never have occurred.

Dick Moses is highly critical of crediting the Holocaust with the development of international Human Right policies. According to his article, “Does the Holocaust Reveal or Conceal Genocides.” a Holocaust consciousness did not exist during the initial policymaking.[6]

Furthermore, Moses asserts that the wording used within the UN declaration is not directly related to the Jewish community; instead, the language refers to the civilian victims of the Nazis. [7] There is no valid evidence that the Holocaust brought on the global changes.

Moses further argues that the Holocaust is not a connecting factor for other events and in fact, overshadows them. According to Moses, it is a mistake to say that the Holocaust should act as a linking tool when all events are unique in their own way. All cases of human rights violations are important and should be included and discussed as each offers a new lesson to be learned. [8]

Giving the Holocaust the main focus minimizes other events like the Ukraine Holodomor and the Residential Schools.

Having the Holocaust as the center focus completely overshadows Canadas biggest human rights violations with its First Nation citizens. The Canadian government placed the First Nations in residential schools in the hopes to assimilate the children into “white society.” The Canadian government did not want to exterminate the Native population, but it wanted to take away their cultural identity; an act now called ‘cultural genocide.’

The residential schools do not register as genocide in people’s mind like the Holocaust does, and therefore it is not considered one by many individuals who are not aware of the words real meaning. [9] Claiming the Holocaust to be a connecting factor to other genocides is inaccurate.

There are claims made that give credit to the Holocaust for creating the opportunity for the First Nations to be seen as a mistreated people. This argument is based on the idea that the Holocaust created the opportunity for Natives to fight back and for their cause to be recognized. However, during the Geneva Convention in the 1940s, cultural genocide was not included, and aboriginals had to fight for their struggles. [10]

In the case of the museum, cultural genocide is entirely left out, and the Canadian government has yet to recognize that one has occurred officially. It is embarrassing that the genocide that took place in Canada is unrepresented within the CMHR as it’s a defining aspect of all that Canada is today. [11] The founders of the CMHR and the Canadian government should have put a larger precedent of presenting Canada’s dark history instead of merely breaking the surface.

The museum prides itself on offering a new look into the Holocaust. The exhibit does not focus specifically on the Jewish community but incorporates the groups that are typically left out of the standard narrative, including those with mental/physical disabilities, homosexuals, and gypsies.

However, the area itself is still labeled as “Exploring the Holocaust,” and by only using the word ‘Holocaust’ in the title changes the perception and expectations people have. It would have been more productive to rethink a name that was not inclusive and better represented all groups involved.

Furthermore, by having the Holocaust as the main focus overshadows other genocides. The Holocaust exhibit is gigantic, contains multiple images, artifacts and the information which is easy to read and find. The other five genocides share the “breaking the silence” exhibit where the information is not as easy to access. The breaking the silence gallery invites prejudice and racism because it prioritizes the few over the many. [12]  

I believe that to represent all genocides fairly, the Museum should rotate the main exhibit every year. Each genocide deserves a moment to share its story and shows the failures within humanity. It should be increasingly important to increase knowledge and awareness of genocides and to shed light on forgotten victims, including but not limited to the Ukrainians and Cambodians. [13] One event should not have precedence over another on the basis that it is “unique.”

From the beginning, Canada’s Museum of Human rights has been surrounded by controversy. Supporters of the Holocaust exhibit believe that it has played an imperative role in the development of human rights and that it has created an international conversation that reveals other genocides. This is inaccurate as evidence shows that when international laws were being put in place, no reference was made to the Jewish people.

Furthermore, the Holocaust does not create an opportunity for other groups to be recognized as Aboriginals within Canada fought for their personal rights and have yet to be recognized as a “cultural genocide.” Having the Holocaust as the primary focuses does not reveal other genocides but conceal them within the museum.



Anonymous. “All Crimes Are Not the Same,” Winnipeg Free Press, December 14th, 2010,

Chatterley, Catherine. “The War Against the Holocaust.” Winnipeg Free Press, April 2nd, 2011,

Moses, Dirk. “Does the Holocaust Reveal or Conceal Other Genocides?” In Hidden Genocides Power, Knowledge, edited by Aleander Laban Hinton, Thomas LaPointe and Douglas Irvin-Erikson, 21-51. United Kingdom: Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Moses, Dirk. “The Canadian Museum for Human Rights: The ‘Uniqueness of the Holocaust and the Question of Genocide.” Journal of Genocide Research 14, no. 2 (2012): 215-238, 

Leave a Reply