Victims of Communism and Victims of Poor Planning

Note: I’ve had this 90%-finished draft sitting around for a week or two, so it may seem a little out-dated. Oh well.

As time goes on, the new memorial for the Victims of Communism is getting more and more bad press. Recently, Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar decried the monument and its placement. Now, The Toronto Star has jumped on the bandwagon, joining the Citizen, many architects, as well as a member of the board that actually approved the monument. Even the NCC doesn’t seem particularly thrilled about.

Personally, I’m not as horrified by it as some, but it’s definitely a bad idea. Here’s a grab-bag of thoughts:

  • This monument is wretchedly political. It’s not a monument to the victims of totalitarianism or dictatorship. It’s not a monument to the victims of fascism. It’s not a monument to the victims of colonialism, imperialism, aristocracies or monarchies. It’s focused solely on communism. It’s a valid target for approbrium, but it’s weird to single it out at this time. We’re 25 years removed from the Cold War. Yes, there’s still communism in this world and it’s still doing horrible things to people, but as a nation, our primary confrontation with communism ended with the fall of the Iron Curtain.This government has no problems pushing through politically-stained history and commemorations, and they’ve been a staunch supporter of this monument (pushing this site). It’s unseemly; it degrades all of our national monuments.
  • Speaking of politics, the Liberals are starting to make some noise about the issue. Good for them.
  • This is prime public land being used for a (private) monument. And, by all accounts, for an ugly monument. This is an absolute waste of a public resource. The government is stealing this land* from the public to thrust a controversial (and rather unwanted) monument on us.
  • As it turns out, this land might be worth closer to $16M, rather than the million or so the government said it was worth. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a $16M giveaway to this organization (the government wasn’t about to sell the land for that amount, nor does it seem it will buy other land for $16M to replace this plot), but it makes it an all-the-more questionable use of public resources.
  • It’s been noted that the land was supposed to be used to build some Justice-related buildings. It is certainly worthwhile to consider other potential uses of the land, but this is hardly a valid argument, in and of itself. Consider: the land the Supreme Court is on was donated for the purpose of building a hospital. If we’re really worried about what the land was supposed to be used for, we’d be planning a new hospital, not another courthouse. And if we really worried about original purposes of the land…well…colonialism, c’mon.
  • None of the renderings of this monument look particularly good. It looks kind of ugly, and it doesn’t seem to open this public land to the public very well. That stretch of Wellington has nice wide sidewalks. There are interesting buildings and monuments nearby. If you’re going to put a new monument there (even an ill-advised, politically-motivated one), try to do better. Yes, I know that it will look different in real life than it does in the pictures, but it would be odd to release images that make the monument look significantly worse than it actually will (though, I guess we will see).
  • Honestly, I don’t get all the hand-wringing over the now-never-to-be-built Pierre Trudeau building. Does Wellington really need buildings more than it does greenspace?
  • Apparently, the people behind the monument are now talking about scaling back the whole thing. Something a little more modest that makes better use of the space (and allows others to make better use of the space) might be a nice addition to the street.

*Yes, this is a rather ironic phrase considering Canada’s history of colonialism. It’s also an odd phrase in this context. The land currently belongs to the government, so you may wonder how I can argue that it is stealing the land (colonialism aside). Well, there are a few ways to look at this. First, the public’s actual and potential use of this land will end once the monument is built. Second, the monument is for a narrow group of citizens and not the public as a whole. Sure, we don’t usually call this stealing (we might say appropriation), but the rest of us are being robbed of something.

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