Over the last few days, we have received numerous questions, comments and criticism about our decision to reopen on July 27 in compliance with the provincial public health order. Currently, the law specifically allows us to admit only those visitors who have been double vaccinated against COVID‐19 or children under 12 accompanied by fully vaccinated adults from their household.
The majority of the comments appear to be from individuals who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID‐19 or who support those who have made that choice. I understand people feel like the Museum is discriminating against those who are not vaccinated. It is important, however, to ground our behaviour in human rights principles.
Discrimination is defined in law as treating a person differently on the basis of some characteristic that goes to the root of who they are as a human being (where there is no reasonable cause to do so). These characteristics include age, ancestry, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, religious belief, gender identity and disability. We have to be careful about equating a choice not to get vaccinated with these protected characteristics when looking at what can be considered discriminatory.
Public health laws – and indeed, our laws in general – are often about applying reasonable restrictions on individual behavior for the broader health and safety of the general public. In this way they must strike a balance between individual rights and collective responsibility. As a public institution, the Museum has a role to play in the collective responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of the public we serve.
As a result, we made a decision to open our doors in accordance with the public health order – the same law that applies to all of us in the province of Manitoba. We will respect the privacy rights of our visitors as they relate to personal health information, which we will not collect or store. We will make visiting as safe and easy as possible because we want this Museum to be part of your journey to learn about human rights and to inspire change in the world.
I’d like to emphasize that these regulations are temporary and intended to suppress the virus and help end the pandemic. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated – it’s the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and those around us.
A small number of comments come from individuals concerned about those who are unable to get vaccinated for health reasons. We share those concerns and will be reaching out to Public Health to request modifications which enable us to reasonably accommodate those needs.
Finally, I would like to encourage people to keep the dialogue respectful at all times. While it is important to talk about what constitutes a human rights issue – and what does not – some commentators have resorted to using racist, abusive language and threatening people who work or volunteer at the Museum. There is zero tolerance for these types of comments. These threats are being reviewed by our security team and some are being forwarded to police.
While the pandemic has been uniquely challenging, I believe we must move forward out of it with greater empathy for others. The more we learn about human rights, the better we are at navigating the issues of our time that impact us most deeply, including COVID‐19.
I look forward to welcoming visitors again on July 27. I also look forward to continuing to have important and complex conversations.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Isha Khan (she/her) is a lawyer, educator and community leader dedicated to building a culture of human rights in Canada and beyond. She assumed her role as CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in August of 2020.
Born in Winnipeg, she holds degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Victoria. She worked in private practice in Calgary before returning home to lead institutional development and change management at United Way Winnipeg. She served at the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, first as legal counsel and then as Executive Director, moving forward several important rights‐based initiatives and public education campaigns. Before assuming her role at the Museum, she was appointed by the Government of Canada to review the conditions of incarcerated people in segregation in federal penitentiaries.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, she is also a dedicated community volunteer who serves as Board Chair of United Way Winnipeg.
Throughout her life, Khan has helped build communities where everyone is respected and empowered to reach their full potential. She continues that work at the Museum, engaging people around the world in a growing movement for hope and human rights.