The Museum Conundrum

April 12, 2011

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is set to open up in 2012, but as everyone knows, it hasn’t been without its controversy.

Most recently, there’s been issues with the Museum’s plan to make an exhibit focusing exclusively on the Holocaust and another exhibit on genocides. Not really on any specific genocide, but just genocides. So, you can see how this might piss people off by giving them the impression that certain events are not as valid as others, such as the Holodomer and the Rwandan genocide.

In fact, there was a poll put out by Nanos Research that showed that the majority of Canadians are upset about having two separate exhibits. The preferred choice is to have an exhibit that showcases all genocides equally. (Note: I’m positive that the majority of people don’t want to come across as anti-Semetic by voting for one exhibit, but still, I can easily how it can devolve that way if the wrong people are given a soapbox.)

I understand the argument, and I think that topics as sensitive as this should be represented as well as possible, but doesn’t all this squabbling completely undermine what the museum is supposed to be about?

The museum is supposed to be about the celebration of human rights in Canada and learning from the atrocities committed in the past. It really is unfortunate that some groups are underrepresented, such as those imprisoned in the internment camps during the First World War. Now this is just speculation, but maybe this exhibit is not getting as much attention because the government is embarrassed and maybe won’t fund anything if it does? (OK, that is pure speculation, but it’s a good conspiracy theory.)

The Museum is also under fire from people concerned with northern communities and their lack of clean of water – “Why give money to a Museum instead of a cause?” is the issue there. There is the chance that the Museum could educate people about it, but that’s a year away and who knows what can happen in between that time.

Unfortunately, it just seems the Museum is a centre for politics and controversy, rather than the supreme educational tool it supposed to be. I’m sure people who work with the Museum and people who are against it have the same general goal in mind, but the path to reaching this goal is the problem.

– JHR Column that appeared in issue 15 of The Projector. Written and posted by Andrew Kress.


Anyone Can Make a Difference (Fighting AIDS in Africa)

March 30, 2011

The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world is frightening. In 2009, the estimated total number of people in the world living with HIV/AIDS was 33.3 million people. Canadians can account for almost 100,000 of that number. Although HIV/AIDS is not to be taken lightly no matter who you are, Canadians living with the disease have relatively easy access to medicine compared to other places in the world, such as Kenya.

In Kenya, an estimated 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Although the disease has been effecting the country since 1983, the Kenyan government has only stepped up in prevention advocacy within the past decade in increasingly larger ways. For example, 10 million condoms were distributed in 2004. The number of condoms distributed four years later rose to 124.5 million.

Josh Schettler, a 20-year-old Winnipegger, started the RAY Youth Consortium centre in Kenya just last September as part of his SI SIRI Project. (Si siri means “It is no secret” in Swahili.) The goals of the RAY Youth Consortium is to eliminate the stigma of being HIV positive, educate locals about HIV/AIDS, and to provide support to anyone who is HIV positive. Outreaches are done in local communities every Wednesday and mobile testing is conducted on Fridays. Testing is available for free at the clinic everyday on a drop-in basis, where there is also a support group available.

RAY Youth Consortium has also begun working with students on how to teach younger students about the dangers of HIV/AIDS in schools.

Schettler started this project after his initial trip to Kenya, which was back in 2008. He spent six months just outside Nairobi and learned how to properly administer HIV tests. Schettler returned last year in September and has been there since, with the exception of a small trip back around the new year to see family and friends.

Schettler’s friends here in Winnipeg have been inspired to join him out in Africa. Katie Keats, who has known Schettler for years, flew out to Kenya in mid-January to help out. She’ll be there until the beginning of April. Keats, like Schettler, is only 20-years-old.

Keats has been sending out emails to friends and family about her experiences out in Kenya. She says one of her most rewarding moments out there just seeing the looks on people’s faces when they’re told they are negative.

“I’ll never forget the look on his face when the woman told him that he is negative and the way he shook my hand and thanked me before he walked home to tell his wife the news.”

Both Schettler and Keats work as servers when they are in Winnipeg and go to university. They’re no different than the hundreds of students here at Red River. So, if you’re not sure what you want to do post-graduation or even on your summer vacation, why not go out and make a difference?

JHR RRC Column that appeared in issue 14 of The Projector. Posted by Andrew Kress.

Migrant workers sick of getting short end of the stick

March 30, 2011

We have this view of Canada. We think of it as a peacekeeping nation, a leader in human rights. And rightfully so. Canada’s played the part of the peacekeeper during Suez, Vietnam, Cyprus, and many other times, earning its title. Canada is one of the few nations that’s given equal rights to LGBT people, and was a place where slaves would escape to through the Underground Railroad.

But there’s a kind of elitism that comes with this knowledge that we are a leader of human rights, an elitism that potentially blinds us to what is happening in our own backyard.

I’m talking about migrant workers, people who leave one country to work in another one temporarily to send money back home. In Manitoba, there are a good chunk of migrant workers working on farms. While here, they pay CPP, income tax, and employment insurance. They pay everything we pay, but they receive no benefits. No healthcare. Nothing.

It gets worse.

On a farm, it’s required that a worker needs a weekly day off, or if the weather is bad they are forced to take a day off. Some migrant workers work for 12 days in a row, 12 to 16 hours a day. If the weather is bad and they work, the farmer won’t pay them because hours aren’t protected under the employment standards. Breaks are also regulated to the field.

When these workers come into the city to shop, it’s not uncommon that someone from the farm will come with them and watch them, making sure no one talks to them. They are also not allowed to receive visits while on the farm. They are completely cut off.

Farmers have also been known to scam the government. When they hire a worker from another country, they are supposed to pay for their flights. The farmer can terminate a worker and tell them their flight home is the next day, feeding them some bull about failing a competency test despite having worked for them for a lengthy amount of time. Laying off a migrant worker prevents the farmer from having to pay for the return flight.

If you’re wondering why do they bother coming here, it’s because this is where the money is. They can’t support their families in their own countries, so they come here because the pay is substantially better. These people are willing to be separated from their families and go through this abuse so their loved ones can put food on the table.

To put this in perspective, the Heinz company’s facility in Leamington, Ontario hires migrant workers to work on their farms. If you have a bottle of ketchup in your house, it was probably made by a migrant worker.

So congratulations, Canada, you’ve made it a step above slavery. But maybe it’s time to tackle the rest of the staircase.

For more info check out,, and the film El Contrato, produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

JHR RRC Column that appeared in issue 12 of The Projector. Posted by Andrew Kress.


Bodies Exhibit (JHR RRC Column)

March 30, 2011

During its four month run, over 100,000 people went to see Bodies: The Exhibition. And why not? It’s a new, fun way to learn so really, what’s wrong with that?

Well, the issue was that while people were getting all their questions about the human body answered, it seemed that nobody was asking questions about the bodies.

Well, not nobody, exactly – David Matas, a lawyer, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee had been fighting to get the bodies seized and buried. Matas has done extensive research into the Falun Gong, a Chinese religious minority whose members have been persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured in China. He believes that the bodies belonged to members of the Falun Gong, as the only thing that is known about the bodies is that they are “unclaimed” Chinese corpses. (According to Matas’ research, the Chinese government has been selling the organs of Falun Gong members to foreign nations.)

The issue was rendered moot earlier this month when it was announced that Bodies would no longer be touring.

Judith Cheung, a student at the University of Manitoba who chairs the university’s Falun Dafa student group also opposed Bodies. (Falun Dafa is another name for Falun Gong.) She, along with U of M professors Cathy Rocke and Maria Cheung, picketed the exhibit in November.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the women formed a petition that demanded Bodies be taken down if there is no proof that the cadavers were donated with consent. Clearly, the petition didn’t do much, despite gaining over 1,000 signatures.

Second-year CreComm student Cindy Titus wrote a thoughtful blog post about the topic, and brought up a close-to-home “What if?” scenario. Titus brought up that in Canada, many aboriginal women go missing. Well, what if their bodies were used by another country in this type of exhibit? Would anyone care?

An opposing view, discussed in a column by Mike Warkentin on UpTown’s website, Warkentin points out that there is just no proof that these bodies belong to Falun Gong. He compared it to someone trying to prove that none of their clothes were made in a sweatshop.

This brings me to my point (finally) that human rights issues always need to be brought to light. Even if Bodies isn’t using the remains of the Falun Gong, how many people have now been educated about their plight? How many people in Winnipeg had even heard of the Falun Gong before this?

If you think that human rights isn’t an issue that should be brought up whenever it can, I urge you to Google any one of the Winnipeg Free Press articles on the subject and read the hurtful, negative comments that people post. It’s an extremely shocking eye-opener to the kind of callousness people can have when it comes to the basic rights of others.

JHR RRC Column that appeared in issue 11 of The Projector. Posted by Andrew Kress.

Voice to the Voiceless

March 7, 2011

Canadian students holler about rape in the Congo:
By Dani Finch

During the week of February 28 to March 4, students across Canada raised their voices to stop rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). High school and university students at Journalists for Human Rights (jhr) chapters across the country participated in HollerDay, an annual jhr event.

According to a blog post by Ken Zolotar, the Youth Engagement Coordinator for jhr, “HollerDay exists to give a voice to the voiceless – to harness our power to communicate messages, and use it to tell the story of those who cannot tell their own.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is often referred to as the Rape Capital of the World, and thousands of woman in the country have been victimized by sexual violence. As per statistics provided by jhr, over 15, 000 rapes were reported between 2008 and 2009, and an average of 36 cases of sexual violence are reported each day. 10 per cent of the girls victimized by sexual abuse in this country are younger than 10 years old.

HollerDay combines awareness and fundraising to benefit making the lives of women in the DRC better. The campaign challenges students to get out of their comfort zone and make as much noise as they can. jhr’s website suggests students grab a megaphone, write, sing, dance and HOLLER about women’s rights in the DRC, because the more people know about the poor treatment of women there, the more that and will be done about it.

In addition to raising awareness through speaking out, another goal of HollerDay is to raise money to fund projects that directly help the women of the DRC. 100 per cent of the funds raised from HollerDay will support jhr’s work in the DRC, which, according to jhr’s website, is aimed at amplifying the voices of their women and putting pressure on the DRC’s elite to take action.

Students from Journalists for Human Rights, Red River College chapter took part in this Canada wide event. Chapter members created a presentation board filled with facts about sexual violence in the DRC. The chapter members set up in the atrium during the HollerDay week to raise students’ awareness and collect pledges for the HollerDay campaign.

Sexual violence and other human rights abuses against women, especially in the DRC are devastating the lives of women and their families, and it’s through campaigns like HollerDay that jhr is working to raise awareness and stop the atrocity that is affecting so many lives.

For more information about HollerDay and jhr please visit jhr’s website: If you would like to get involved with jhr at Red River College email

Dani Finch is the Coordinator of jhr RRC. This article appeared in the March 7th edition of Red River College’s paper, The Projector.

Raise Hope for Congo with Ryan Gosling

January 31, 2011

While I was on a gossip website (I know), I found this cute and shockingly informative video with Ryan Gosling. He talks about going to the Congo in support of Raise Hope for Congo (skip to the 1:15 mark).



Since our upcoming (actual date TBA) HollerDay is going to be about the Congo, I figured this was pretty relevant and something to think about.

Check out the info Raise Hope for Congo has about conflict minerals on their website.

Personally, I’ve never even heard of conflict minerals before and being in a program that requires me to rely solely on my laptop and iPod it really disturbs me. Definitely something that people need to be aware of.


Posted by Andrew Kress

jhr RRC Goes Global

January 13, 2011

CreComm Student Earns Local Media Internship in Africa
Spending Summer 2011 in Ghana
By Emily Wessel

Alyssa McDonald is a bubbly, outgoing first-year Creative Communications student at Red River College’s Exchange District Campus. The 20-year-old Minnedosa native often acts as the coordinator of after-school drinks at the King’s Head on Fridays. 


 But McDonald has a serious side.

“My ultimate goal is to work for a human rights awareness organization,” McDonald says. 

To achieve her goal, McDonald joined the new Red River College chapter of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), the largest media organization in Canada. JHR encourages a focus on local human rights issues, and from May to August, McDonald’s locale will be Ghana. 

“I first heard about the internship through Twitter,” McDonald says. “The tweet said the application deadline was extended for another day, so I just sent mine in before it was too late.”

After a Skype interview with last year’s intern, McDonald learned she had secured the position. McDonald will work for a local radio station, television station, newspaper, or some combination of the three – she has yet to find out. Her regular duties will include blogging, photographing, and writing articles about what is happening in Ghana. McDonald is also expected to add value to the organization in any way she can through skills she has learned as a journalism student.  

“We’re training media, but we’re also being trained,” she says. “It’s a partnership with the locals and very give-and-take. We’re not going there as experts – we have a lot to learn.”

After pre-departure training in Toronto, McDonald will find out what city she will be living in and will live in provided accommodations with other JHR interns. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) subsidizes some of the cost of the internship in return for a 10-minute documentary that McDonald will produce on one of CIDA’s priority issues, including sustainable economic growth and increasing food security. However, McDonald must fundraise the remaining $5 000 that the summer will cost her. JHR will be setting up a website in McDonald’s name for people to donate directly to her.

It won’t be McDonald’s first time in Africa – in 2009 she volunteered at a school in Ethiopia.  

“I think my trip to Ethiopia prepared me for this, but it will be different because it’s a different setting and I’ll be a professional,” McDonald says. “I’m mostly excited, but this will be the longest I’ve ever been away from home for.”

McDonald’s mother says she is proud of her daughter’s drive.

“I know how passionate she is about both journalism and human rights so it’s a great fit,” Jennifer McDonald says. “The work and travel experience will complement her career aspirations.”