Museum for Human Rights CEO resigns after LGBT censorship, allegations of racism, harassment

The president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment and racism at the Winnipeg institution, as well as complaints that staff were forced to censor LGBT content.

Museum's board of trustees says claims were not properly brought to its attention

Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO John Young will resign immediately, the national museum's board announced Thursday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment and racism at the Winnipeg institution, as well as complaints that staff were forced to censor LGBT content.

John Young had previously said he would step down at the end of his term in August. But the museum's board of trustees said in a statement Thursday night it believed it's in the best interests of the museum that he resign immediately.

The resignation comes after five women told CBC they had been sexually harassed by a male colleague, and felt the museum's human resources department had dismissed their complaints.

CBC also reported the museum forced staff at times to censor displays about LGBT history for certain guests including religious school groups. 

Those reports sparked calls for Young to leave immediately.

'We apologize unreservedly'

In a statement Thursday night, the museum's board chair Pauline Rafferty said the allegations were not properly brought to the attention of the board of trustees.

"We will act quickly to improve museum processes and our policies and to rebuild relationships and trust with our staff and those we have let down, especially the Black and Indigenous communities, people of colour and LGBTQ2+ communities," the statement said.

"We apologize unreservedly for what has happened and we know that the fight against systemic racism, homophobia, inequality and all forms of othering must be ongoing, and must be a priority."

In an internal email sent to all staff Thursday night, Rafferty apologized and said the board and Young, with the support of Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, agreed it's in the best interest of the museum for the CEO to leave immediately.

Earlier this month, former employees posted stories of alleged racism on Instagram through an account called CMHR Stop Lying.

Gabriela Agüero, a former program developer and museum tour guide. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

Later, Gabriela Agüero, a former program developer at the museum and tour guide told CBC she was forced to shield LGBT displays from certain tour groups and alleged she was sexually harassed by a male colleague.

Agüero said Young's departure is a good first step but called for other managers involved to leave too.

"If everybody else who has been participating in this hiding and distortion and abuse is still at the institution, nothing is going to change.

"They need to go deeper than that." 

Advocacy groups criticize museum

Egale Canada, a national LGBT advocacy organization, said it's heard from many Canadians in recent days who are upset about the reports of censorship.

"The trust has been lost and there needs to be a lot more action and a lot more engagement if we're ever to hope for it to be repaired," said Jennifer Boyce, the group's director of communications.

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation, launched by the former governor general, also criticized the museum, saying it was concerned by the allegations of racist and homophobic discriminatory practices.

The charitable organization encourages grassroots youth and arts initiatives for social change.

"We must firmly stand up to discrimination of all nature and ask for accountability, transparency and concrete actions from museum leadership as the allegations are being independently investigated," the foundation said in a statement.

Rafferty will act as interim CEO until a replacement is found.

The museum hired Winnipeg lawyer Laurelle Harris last week to investigate discrimination at the museum. But her probe, which is being assisted by consultant Barbara Bruce, will not look into allegations of sexual harassment. The museum said it has already hired two external lawyers in the past to probe those allegations. 

Rafferty said the board of trustees has established a diversity and inclusion committee chaired by trustee Julie Jai.

Jai is a former member of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. She said Thursday the museum will work to listen to, and address the concerns of staff. 

With files from Nick Frew