Cohen: Communism memorial a monumental folly

Cohen: Communism memorial a monumental folly

OTTAWA, ONT., DEC 5,  2013--MUGLOGO Andrew Cohen--writer--mug logo (Pat McGrath/The Ottawa Citizen) EDITORIAL mug ASSIGNMENT 115390 SAXO--NOT ENTERED VIDEO--NO Andrew Cohen
March 10, 2015 2:44 PM EDT

A drawing of the winning ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture concept for the National Memorial to Victims of Communism which will be situated near the Supreme Court of Canada.

A drawing of the winning ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture concept for the National Memorial to Victims of Communism which will be situated near the Supreme Court of Canada.

That the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism is a monumental folly is no longer in question. Its location and design have been denounced by virtually every independent authority. No wonder it has ignited a swelling chorus of derision.

Critics include the Institute of Planners, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Ontario Association of Architects. They include a member of the memorial jury (Shirley Blumberg), the original designer (Zuzana Hahn) and a leading Ottawa architect (Barry Padolsky).

The most notable are the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and the mayor of Ottawa, as well Paul Dewar, the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre, and Catherine McKenna, the Liberal Party candidate in the riding.

Quick now, what sensible person doesn’t oppose this calamity? It leaves only two questions: how did this happen and what can be done about it?

Don Butler ably explains its origins in an article in Citizen last weekend. In forensic detail, he describes the mismanagement, partisanship and deception that produced the wrong monument in the wrong place.

Look closely, and count the benefits to Stephen Harper.

First, in insisting the monument lie just west of the Supreme Court – in what was long planned as a judicial precinct – it allows Harper to poke a stick in the eye of the high court.

Oh, no, you say. How petty! Yet it’s consistent with a prime minister who has attacked the integrity of the chief justice, which was unprecedented. For that Harper neither explained nor apologized.

Building a monument – stark, brutal, harsh – is a perverse response to the chief justice, who has mused about “a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice.”

But why would Harper care? He dislikes Ottawa and loathes the court, which has handed his government a string of rebukes.

Second, in authorizing a monument where there was supposed to be a new home for the Federal Court of Canada, Harper diminishes the judiciary. It must give him particular pleasure to displace a building that was to be named after Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Third, the monument allows Harper to appeal to his “base”, which includes many of the estimated eight million Canadians who are thought to be victims of communism. This is the strongest reason for the memorial; the others are fringe benefits.

It is sad to watch this play out as advocates of the memorial, many tied to the Conservatives, press on amid the mounting ridicule. They are deaf to the damage to their cause, and to history, and to what a memorial should be in Canada, our unconscious country.

This farce has an ugly side. When backers of the memorial learned of plans to build a monument to victims of the Holocaust in LeBreton Flats, one of them exclaimed: “We want one as big as the Jews!” – and in as prominent a place.

Is there a way to stop this lunacy?

There is talk of a resolution in Ottawa City Council condemning the memorial, which Jim Watson has called “a blight.” The city should express its opposition.

What else can citizens do? Complain to Pierre Poilievre, the minister responsible for Ottawa. Tell him the government should revisit this. Let other Conservatives know, too, like MP Royal Galipeau, who has a sense of history.

Get on Facebook. Sign the petition now circulating. Appeal to heritage and historical organizations (understanding that some funded by the government, like Historica Canada, will say nothing.)

No, this is not the greatest issue facing Canada, which is why it is easy to ignore. Some will say it’s a local issue. It is not. This is a question of how we remember in a country without memory (which, curiously, has drawn the attention of the New York Times.)

It is a textbook example of bad governance. And because memorials of stone endure, it will remain forever, making all Canadians its victims.

Andrew Cohen is author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

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