Museum for Human Rights makes you think


The holiday season is a time to think of others — which is what the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg does on a daily basis. (Adrian Brijbassi file photos/

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — I visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg for the first time on August 18, 2014, along with other travel journalists and bloggers from around the world. Filled with several galleries and displays — including Indigenous Perspectives, Examining the Holocaust and Breaking the Silence — the CMHR is an educational and moving experience.

After my visit I returned to my hotel and a good night’s sleep. The next day I woke up, had breakfast and turned on my computer. There it was.

James Wright Foley, an American journalist and video reporter who had been working as a freelance war correspondent during the Syrian Civil War, had been beheaded by the the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over the night. Perhaps the hardest picture of all was Foley’s face, frozen in time, a look of horror and uncertainty.

I thought about what this man had gone through and couldn’t take my mind off of his devastated family, friends and co-workers. I also thought of the thousands of people around the world who are living under the thumb of extremists, political thugs and police brutality all over the world. And I also thought about the terrorists who were doing the killing — how in the world do you get to a point where you can cut off a man’s head without feeling anything? In that moment, I realized — and was surprised — by just how much of the Museum for Human Rights I had carried with me.

Putting Human Rights Into a Global Context

If the CMHR was a book, it wouldn’t be what you would call easy reading. This isn’t a place you would go on a first date — it’s a serious place dealing with difficult subject matter. This museum is designed to make you think and reflect, and think and reflect you will long after you leave. To me, this is what truly makes this museum a success.

I have been thinking quite a bit about human rights over the past several weeks. On December 10, the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day was celebrated. In the past, it was a date I would not have circled on my calendar, but it was top of mind this year because of the CMHR’s impact on me. With the holidays approaching, thoughts of helping others extends beyond charitable giving to also include simple awareness of struggles. By keeping myself aware, I may find the opportunity to contribute to alleviating the suffering and injustices.

[box_light]Canadian Museum for Human Rights shines[/box_light]

mandela voting box canadian museum for human rights

This ballot box from the South Africa election that saw Nelson Mandela ascend to president of that country is on display at the CMHR.

Between my August visit to the museum and today, Ali al-SayyedSteven SotloffDavid Haines and Abbas Medlej have also been murdered by extremists. The city of Ferguson, Missouri has exploded into angry riots after a grand jury refused to indict a police officer for shooting an African-American man who allegedly had his hands up and was trying to surrender. Since then, there have been other complaints of police brutality, most recent in New York where one officer has been accused of killing an African-American man by putting him in an illegal choke hold. Earlier this month, a report came out slamming the CIA for using torture as an interrogation tactic.

Respected celebrities and role models in Canada and abroad are accused of sexual misconduct — sometimes by many women over several years — who claim their calls for justice haven’t been heard. The Russians are in Ukraine. China is trying to curtail democracy in Hong Kong. Those kidnapped African girls are still missing. There have been no shortages of human rights abuses to reflect on.

Terrorism, racism, homophobia and sexism have been around long before I was born and there’s very little I’m going to be able to do to put an end to it. But I find myself asking a simple question more and more — what can I do? Even if it’s only sending a tweet, doing some research, writing a letter or just shutting up and listening, there is always something that can be done — even on the tiniest scale. We are not helpless.

Ralph Appelbaum, museum exhibition designer for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said in an interview that Canadians are known for their ability to face challenges and are known around the world for being leaders in human rights.

“What we realized time and again after talking to people was the extraordinary awakening that they’ve had and good feelings that they’ve had when they discovered their own sense of empathy and their own sense of compassion for others, nothing makes a family feel better, to do good, to see your kids do good,” said Appelbaum. “Human rights isn’t these giant geopolitical events that cause horrendous atrocities but in fact it really begins in the smallest way, in the little comment made in a convenience store, what happens to our kids in a playground with bullying, and learning those little lessons, being sensitive to them, makes you feel more in control of your own life and more proud of your own individuality. And so the museum began to explore that journey as one that could be really life enhancing.”

Anything is better than just sitting back, watching and being silent. Perhaps these are the most important lessons the CMHR offers — we are not that far apart from each other, we can always do something, we are not helpless and staying silent on the sidelines doesn’t serve anyone. With the holidays upon us, I hope all of us take the time to reflect on what human rights means on an individual level, and that we each choose to make a little noise ourselves.



Address: 85 Israel Asper Way
Phone: 1-204-289-2000
Tickets: Adults $15


  • Read more about Human Rights Day on the United Nations Website. The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.


Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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