The debate around The Memorial to the Victims of Communism continues to rage in the city, with recent comments from Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre – now the government’s key minister for Ottawa – putting more Conservative support behind the project.
Poilievre, the Conservative MP representing Nepean-Carleton, told the Ottawa Citizen on March 25 that, “we want to have this tribute in a place where people will actually see it and that is the case with the planned site.”
The planned site is a vacant space on Wellington Street between the Supreme Court of Canada and Archives Canada. The placement of the monument at a site long-designated for a new federal court building has drawn criticism from architects, citizens, federal opposition critics and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. Watson has said that the National Capital Commission, which is responsible for the land, did not contact him in planning the project.
“This was sprung on everyone and announced with no consultation whatsoever,” said Watson in February.
There had been long debates on what to build on the land until the memorial was proposed in 2013. One plan that the Conservatives scrapped was to place a new headquarters for the Federal Court on the property and to name it the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Building. Poilievre stated that this idea was unappealing to him.
“The alternative is another government building in downtown Ottawa and I’m not getting anybody in my riding telling me that we need another government building in downtown Ottawa,” told Poilievre the Ottawa Citizen.
Poilievre told Centretown News that part of the government’s reasoning has its roots in the 2010 throne speech.
“In Canada, over eight million people trace their roots to countries that suffered under Communism. Our government committed to honouring the victims of communism in our Speech from the Throne in 2010. We look forward to fulfilling that commitment.” said Poilievre.
The monument is slated to cost $5.5 million, and the project is being spearheaded by a non-profit group called Tribute to Liberty.
Robert Tmej, a member of the board of directors for the Tribute to Liberty, acknowledges that the choice of location has garnered some criticism.
“Not everybody loves it, not everybody hates it,” says Tmej. “Its art, its design, it’s in the eye of the beholder. But it certainly is striking.”
The memorial is set to have two main features- a twelve-foot tall “Bridge of Hope” from which visitors can view the rest of the monument. The other feature is a series of rising concrete ridges, covered in millions of squares to represent the individuals that died in Communist regimes.
Some of the criticism around the monument focuses on the subject matter of the memorial – it’s “not Canadian enough – although Tmej says that recent Canadian immigrants may feel a strong connection.
“If I look at the design that was chosen, it doesn’t really represent Canada in a geographical sense . . . It represents Canadians and their struggle and their ability to settle in all parts of Canada,” says Tmej.
Some have expressed the view that the space should be used in a manner that better respects both the downtown area and the specific site near the Supreme Court.
“The strong political message delivered by this placement is an affront to the respect Canadians have for the court and to the right of Canadians to an impartial hearing – unobstructed by any politically imposed metaphor,” Monica Cullum wrote in a letter to The Globe and Mail.
A time to start building has not yet been announced, although Tmej says Tribute to Liberty wants to commence “as soon as possible.” Construction is expected to take between six months and a year.