Canadians’ opposition to anti-communist monument grows

VANCOUVER, Canada – Plans to construct an anti-communist monument in Ottawa,  honoring the alleged “victims” of communism, are encountering opposition. A project that looked like it might have smooth sailing is facing a rough time.

The project was first launched by the  Conservative Party-linked Tribute to Liberty Society (TL) in 2009. It makes the dubious and unsupported claim that communist governments killed more than 100 million people during the 20th century.

TL plans to build a large grey stoned monument in downtown Ottawa in front of the Supreme Court building.  The local planning body, the National Capital Commission, has already approved the project.

Judging from TL’s Facebook page, which only has 872 likes, the project honoring the victims of communism enjoys little public support. After the group failed to raise the $ 5.5 million it needed to build the monument, the right-wing Conservative government of Stephen Harper jumped in and became one of the main promoters and financiers of the project.

“The reality is that they have had difficulty getting individuals or Canadian organizations to contribute financially to the project,” remarked Kimball Cariou, editor of the Peoples Voice, newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada, in an interview.   The government will contribute $3 million and land valued at $30 million to the project.

The Conservatives are following the lead of the European right in an effort to whip up anti-communism, equating fascism with communism.  It is also an attempt, no doubt, to increase it’s electoral support among the eastern European immigrant population in Canada.

The Harper government also allowed TL to violate federal rules that forbid charities to  engage in political activity.   When the group first applied for charitable status in 2009, it told the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) that it would be engaging in political activity by contacting Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators.

Charitable status allows a contributor to obtain a partial tax refund for a donation.   In the five years that followed, the group answered “no” each time it was asked by the CRA whether it engaged in political activity.

During this time, Conservative MPs and Senators have taken part in the group’s fundraising events and last year Harper spoke at a TL fundraising dinner.   Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon was one of the group’s founders and is a member of the organization’s Board of Directors, which consists mostly of business people of eastern European origin.

In contrast,  the Conservatives have singled out left-leaning groups with charitable status that engage in raising awareness about environmental issues and social and economic inequality for intrusive and expensive audits to determine whether they are engaging in political activity.  In some cases, charitable tax status has been denied or scaled back to these groups.

Ottawa’s mayor Jim Watson is opposing the project because the proposed grey structure would be a “blight.” Supreme Court Judge Justice Beverley McLachin wrote a letter to the Department of Public works and Government Services that expresses concern that the monument would convey “a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice.”

The Royal Architectural Institute and the Ontario Association of Architects object to the monument on the same grounds.   Local citizens have also rejected the project and are circulating a petition against the monument. 

In the Globe and Mail newspaper recently, seventeen former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association argued against the monument’s construction near the Supreme Court buildings.  “The citizens of this country approach the Supreme Court of Canada up the majestic stairs in front of the courthouse.  If this monument is erected, they will do so under the shadow of a state-imposed message of this monument,” they wrote.  “No citizen should feel that his or her case is being heard under such a shadow.  Even a fervent anti-communist can, and should, oppose making any of our courthouses, let alone our Supreme Court house, the venue for state-imposed messages of political preference or of political opprobrium.”

The opposition social democratic New Democratic  and Green Parties, once ardent supporters of the project, now oppose the monument’s proposed location in front of the Supreme Court.

The Communist Party of Canada calls the monument a throwback to the cold war era in which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police  spied on and harassed  communists, resulting in social ostracism, blacklisting, imprisonment and deportations.  “This proposal also represents a profoundly unjust attack on Canadian Communists, who have made many pioneering contributions since 1921, such as fighting against fascism, organizing industrial workers into unions, initiating movements to win Unemployment Insurance, public healthcare and other social programs, to campaign for peace and disarmament, fighting for the full national rights of Aboriginal peoples and Quebec, and to defend Canada’s sovereignty,” according to party leader Miguel Figueroa. 

The CPC has sent several letters to Ottawa’s National Capital Commission asking it to reconsider it’s decision to grant approval for the project. Other critics have called for the construction of a monument to the victims of capitalism.

Actual construction of the monument is expected to begin later this year.

Photo: Plans are to build the monument in front of the Ottawa Supreme Court.  |  wikimedia commons