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Dewar: Ditch the communism memorial and honour aboriginals instead | Ottawa Citizen

Dewar: Ditch the communism memorial and honour aboriginals instead | Ottawa Citizen

Let’s stop quibbling about the monument to victims of communism and ask the real question: Should we have such a monument in our capital? I think not.

At a time when our country must focus on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, why not invest instead in the long-proposed National Aboriginal Centre on Victoria Island?

The Liberal government recently announced it will consult Canadians on the design of the controversial National Memorial to the Victims of Communism, now that it has changed the project’s location. But the government has yet to consult Canadians on a much more basic question. Should we even have this monument at all? I studied the file for the past few years and deeply believe the whole idea should be shelved.

At the beginning, the proponents of this memorial pitched a monument to commemorate the victims of totalitarianism and extremism. Then, under the Conservatives, that idea morphed into a commemoration to the victims of communism. During the planning, there was little to no public consultation on the idea, let alone on the location or the design.

As Ottawa Centre’s former MP, I had to file an access to information request to learn that the depth and breadth of consultation conducted by the former Conservative government. The process to change the original location involved then-ministers Jason Kenny and John Baird writing to their colleague Rona Ambrose, at the time minister of Public Works.

If you don’t feel yourself represented in a consultation composed of three Conservatives sending notes to each other, you’re not alone. After all, they missed the point.

Why do we build national monuments anyway? To cite The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, “any aspect of Canada’s human history may be considered for ministerial designation of national historic significance. To be considered for designation, a place, person or event must have had a nationally significant impact on Canadian history, or must illustrate a nationally important aspect of Canadian history.”

Recent examples are the plaque beside the Château Laurier dedicated to workers who built the Rideau Canal, or the Famous Five statute on Parliament Hill celebrating woman’s fight for equality in Canada.

The proposed victims of communism memorial does not reflect the basic criteria nor is it inclusive of those victims who suffered under other brutal dictators or extremists. After all, communism is an idea, not an event or a person. We should stay true to the criteria of commemorating events and people.

In Regina, there is a statue memorializing the victims of the Holodomor, the famine imposed by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during the 1930s. That tragic event cost many innocent lives and triggered the migration of tens if thousands of Ukrainians, who found refuge in Canada. In Ottawa, we have a proposal for a Boat Peoples Museum to commemorate the refugees who fled to freedom from Southeast Asia. That event is deeply engrained in the fabric of Canada today.

It’s not like we’ve run out of events and people to memorialize. Look around our capital and ask yourself honestly if official Ottawa reflects the original people whose unceded territory we occupy.

Decades ago, we made a solemn commitment to build a National Aboriginal Centre on Victoria Island. This was Algonquin Elder William Commanda’s vision. The last time I spoke to him, he described his vision for a place where commitments to reconciliation are brought to life. A peace centre on a sacred traditional land for people around the world to come to and resolve their conflicts. A place for the preservation and rejuvenation of indigenous languages, knowledge and traditions. A living monument worthy of the capital of a G7 country that’s serious about its commitment to reconciliation.

How about it Ottawa? Instead of thinking small about a monument we don’t want, let’s finally deliver on a National Aboriginal Centre we absolutely need.

Paul Dewar was NDP MP for Ottawa Centre for nine years and is currently a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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