Harper’s memorial to the victims of communism raises numerous concerns

Falsification of History to Smash the People’s Ability to Unite in Action for Nation-Building Today

Opposition to Government Projects

(Feb. 3) – The Harper government is promoting a 5,000-square-metre Memorial to the Victims of Communism that would be situated on Wellington Street in Ottawa, diagonally across from the Supreme Court of Canada building. The monument is scheduled to be completed and in place this fall, just prior to the October 19 federal election. It is already highly controversial.

Cost: The cost of the memorial has already increased from an initial $1.5 million to $5.5 million now. Shirley Blumberg, a partner at one of Canada’s most creative architectural firms, says the final cost could be $8 million or even $12 million. Donations are supposed to cover $2.5 million of the cost. In August 2014, it was reported that the memorial will receive about $4 million from three federal government departments — Citizenship and Immigration, Canadian Heritage and Public Works.

Location: Last week, the Ottawa Citizen reported, “The Department of Canadian Heritage, which is overseeing the monument project, previously told the Citizen that the current site ‘was deemed more favourable’ by Tribute to Liberty [the private charity behind the project] because of its proximity and ‘thematic links’ to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Peace Tower, Parliament Hill and Library and Archives Canada.”

But Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, commenting on other urban design issues in Ottawa, notes, “Equally bad is the site for the new Memorial to the Victims of Communism, the brainchild of a private foundation eagerly supported by the Harper government.”

He quotes Blumberg who says, “I have a massive problem, a huge problem, with this memorial going on that site. I think it completely misrepresents and skews what Canada is all about.” Blumberg notes that the memorial will “completely dominate” nearby buildings, while Simpson notes, “From some angles, the huge new memorial will block views of the Supreme Court.”

Architect’s rendering of design chosen for anti-communist memorial.

Design: In a September 2014 letter, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin says, “Regrettably, some of the proposed designs for the memorial could send the wrong message within the judicial precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice.” Maclean’s magazine also reports, “Several prominent architects and urban planners have voiced their concerns about the memorial, including University of British Columbia’s Larry Beasley, Vancouver’s retired director of planning, and one of the most respected figures in Canadian urban planning circles.”

Politics: And Globe and Mail columnist Roy MacGregor writes, “Canada is, of course, the recognized world leader in apologies. Only a fool would deny that millions have been the tragic victims of communism, but that number pales, surely, in comparison with the victims of capitalism. If we agree to date communism to the Russian Revolution of 1917 — feel free to argue the point — the dating of capitalism’s crimes would have to extend back beyond the Crusades and the spice wars to the very first deal that went badly sour. Regardless of that, and despite the fact that there is already a most-impressive and expensive Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, this new memorial in Ottawa is going ahead.”

The Council of Canadians calls on the Harper government to rethink their plans given these concerns being raised about this memorial.

TML Notes

The “winning design” chosen over the objections of the Advisory Committee on Planning and Design for the National Capital Commission, features six parallel “folded” concrete rows rising 14.5 metres at their highest point, covered with 100 million finger-tip sized “memory squares,” each said to represent “a life lost to Communist regimes worldwide.”

“Visitors will be able to walk among the rows and touch the memory squares to ‘viscerally experience the overwhelming scale of the Communist atrocities,'” says the winning team’s statement of design intent.

“The memorial also features a central plaza, where an image of a victim of Communism — the details are yet to be worked out — will greet visitors,” Don Butler writes for the Ottawa Citizen.

“Suddenly, the abstract singular lost lives will be transformed into a documentary still image of communist atrocities,” one of the architects of the design said. “Their lives will not be lost in vain; they will convey the historical truth of their suffering.”

Writing for the Globe and Mail, Roy MacGregor says: “A member of the selection jury, Shirley Blumberg, conceded to the media that the quality of submissions had been ‘poor.’ Not only that, she added, but ‘the one that was selected by the jury was, I think, particularly brutalist and visceral.’ In the opinion of the Toronto architect, the Ottawa memorial ‘won’t move people to think that there could be a better world. To me it’s just focusing on evil.'”

When Ms. Blumberg spoke to the Citizen, “she made it clear that in her expert opinion, the planned memorial on such a prime and important piece of national property overshadows the history of our country and, in the end, ‘misrepresents and skews’ what this country is all about.”

Blumberg told the Citizen the winning design focused on “brutality and viciousness in a disturbing way.”

Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky sent an open letter to the Prime Minister arguing that the site needed “a significant piece of architecture,” not what was eventually selected, MacGregor writes.

Former Ottawa-area Member of Parliament David Daubney, in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen, said, “I view this as a totally disproportionate distortion of our history and another insult to the residents of Ottawa and most reasonable Canadians. Does the government want a revived 1950s Red Scare to be added to its fear of terrorism campaign or is this just a convenient, if expensive, way for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to thumb his nose at the Supreme Court in perpetuity?”

University of British Columbia Professor Larry Beasley, chair of the Advisory Committee on Planning and Design for the National Capital Commission and former head of planning for the City of Vancouver, told Maclean’s magazine his committee was disappointed. “His committee not only believed it was ‘not a good site,’ but that the winning design by Toronto’s ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture ‘was not the one the majority of our group preferred,'” MacGregor reports.

Ottawa Citizen writer Don Butler reports on a letter obtained by the Citizen that was sent to Deputy Minister of Public Works Michelle d’Auray by Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. The letter was obtained by the Citizen. Butler informs that in December when the design for the anti-communist memorial was selected, five possible designs were being considered. Some, McLachlin wrote, “could send the wrong message within the judicial precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice.”

McLachlin said she had no comment on the decision to erect the memorial or its placement. “That is for the government to decide.

“However, because the proposed grounds of the memorial will be within the judicial precinct, I would ask your department and the selection committee to ensure that the final design is consistent with, and enhances, the public’s respect for justice and the rule of law,” she told d’Auray.

McLachlin also pointedly reminded d’Auray that the chosen site “has long been designated” as part of the judicial precinct. “As you know, the Supreme Court of Canada sits at the apex of the justice system,” she wrote, the Citizen reports.

In an item entitled “NCC board acquiescence to political masters could ruin the Hill,” published by the Ottawa Citizen on January 21, Joanne Chianello writes:

“Since the 1920s, the property has been designated in government documents as the future location of a new building for the Federal Court of Canada. Until, that is, Public Works simply allocated the current site to Tribute to Liberty, the private charity behind the proposed memorial.

“The NCC board of directors unanimously approved the change in November 2013 without officially conferring with the NCC’s own advisory committee on planning, design and realty, which had reservations about the use of the site. When the committee did officially pronounce on the project in mid-2014, it judged the location totally inappropriate for the memorial, and it didn’t think much of the winning design by Toronto-based ABSTRACT Studio Architecture.

“The NCC’s planning committee is chaired by the renowned Canadian urban planner Larry Beasley, who told Maclean’s magazine earlier this month that his committee told the government that ‘the chosen site was not a good site, and that it was needed for a higher priority government purpose over the next few years.’

“So what did everyone do with this expert planning advice? Ignored it, evidently. The NCC board, which is expressly mandated to oversee the planning of the capital, failed to solicit, and later heed, its own planning and design committee. Instead, it voted with the government.

“And thus we come back to our age-old question: Why do we have the NCC if its politically appointed board members are just going to do the bidding of the government of the day?

“Making all this even worse is the fact that the NCC had already reserved a much more suitable site for the proposed Memorial to Victims of Communism on Wellington Street just west of Bay Street. But that location was apparently not prominent enough for the Tribute to Liberty charity.

“The Department of Canadian Heritage, which is overseeing the monument project, previously told the Citizen that the current site ‘was deemed more favourable’ by Tribute to Liberty because of its proximity and ‘thematic links’ to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Peace Tower, Parliament Hill and Library and Archives Canada.

“So we’re going to plan the capital based on what a private charity wants, as opposed to respecting the opinions of professional planners we’ve recruited from across the country for the express purpose of bringing design sensitivity to the capital region?”

Source: TML Weekly Information Project, February 7, 2014

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