Museum Exhibits

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Just over a year ago, we learned that the office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore, wrote the President of the Canadian Science and Technology Museum concerning one of its exhibits: “Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition.” It was intended to complement sexual health classes for students 12 and older, but the minister’s office complained that it did not fit with the museum’s mandate of promoting scientific and technological literacy. The minister’s office said that this content could not be defended and is insulting to taxpayers. This whole affair taught us one thing, Madam Leader: Even Canada’s arm’s-length museums are not beyond the reach of the Harper government.

Last week when I read the Canadian Press headline, “Underwear Exhibit Stripped from the Schedule of Canadian Museum of Civilization,” I thought to myself, “Here we go again!” The Museum of Civilization, soon to be renamed the Museum of Canadian History by the Harper government, cancelled its planned “Undressed” exhibition. “Undressed“, created by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, uncovers 350 years in the history of underwear. The Museum of Civilization forfeited $70,000 in deposits when it cancelled the exhibition last September, only six months after the contract had been signed.

Apparently, “Undressed” no longer fits with the museum’s focus as it shifts from the Museum of Civilization to the Museum of Canadian History. The president now, Mark O’Neill, cited this shift as a reason for cancelling the exhibition booked by his predecessor Victor Rabinovitch, who served from April 2000 to May 2011. It should be noted that Mr. O’Neill was appointed by none other than Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.

Madam Leader, it seems the Harper government does not want Canadian museums talking about sex. Could you get to the bottom of this?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I can say something but, I will not. Speaking about being “undressed”, I will take the question as notice.

Senator Munson: Take my question as what?

To be serious for a moment, these exhibits are designed to be educational and appeal to museum goers. What does your government have against them? Does it know better than the management of these institutions?

Senator LeBreton: It is the first I have heard about “Undressed” and underwear. You know, I remember the meat dress a few years ago, but I have not even heard about these exhibits, honourable senators. Even if I had, I am quite sure I would not be lining up to see them, personally. In any event, I will take the question as notice.

Senator Munson: In the other place, terms have been tossed around such as the reason the government does not want to have the exhibit is that it is simply about puritan morality. They were trying to shed light on the murky rationale for the cancellation.

Regardless of the motivation, there is a serious problem, honourable senators. The government seems to be injecting its ideology into Canada’s museums. It did this in the Court Challenges Program — KAIROS Canada comes to mind and they are no longer around. It is not a stretch of the imagination.

Can the leader assure us that the ministers of the Crown are not routinely picking up the phone to influence decisions at Canada’s arm’s-length museums? Can they not offer these institutions the trust and support they deserve?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, only people on that side run around and worry about ideology. I can assure you that the Minister of Heritage is a very modern, in-tune Canadian minister who is very much committed to the promotion of Canada and Canada’s history. He is very much a modern individual. I do realize that this is something that the other side obsesses about, but we certainly do not.