Premier 'very concerned' by allegations of racism at Royal BC Museum
VICTORIA -- The Premier of British Columbia says he’s troubled by allegations of racism at the Royal BC Museum, one day after the museum announced the surprise departure of its chief executive.
The Victoria-based museum announced Tuesday that CEO Jack Lohman is leaving his role at the end of the week, a decision the museum characterized as mutual and “in the best interests of the organization.”
Lohman’s exit comes amid an ongoing investigation by the BC Public Service Agency into allegations of bullying and discrimination among museum staff.
“I was very concerned when I heard allegations of racism within the museum,” the premier said Wednesday. “We need to have a respectful workplace, we need to make sure that it’s open for everyone to come, free of fear of any persecution or any hints of racism.”
On the same day the museum announced Lohman was leaving, the museum’s Indigenous collections curator announced on social media that he too was leaving at the end of the week.
“I am happy to leave that wicked place behind,” Troy Sebastian wrote on Twitter, calling the museum “a bastion of white supremacy, whose Indigenous collections are a gargantuan repository of trauma and violence.”
In an interview with CTV News on Wednesday, Sebastian said the museum has proven itself “unaccountable” to Indigenous reconciliation.
“The museum needs to take responsibility for the fact that it continues to deny that systemic racism exists,” the curator said.
“Change is coming to the museum, that is a fact,” he added. “It’s a choice of whether or not the province wants to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples or to work in open opposition. We are absolutely, as Indigenous peoples, committed to working with the province.”
Ry Moran, the associate librarian for reconciliation at the University of Victoria, says the issues Sebastian raised are part of “foundational conversations” that are now happening at institutions across the country.
“We have to remember that many of these materials were acquired through really unethical means. Many of these items were simply stolen from communities,” Moran said.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of soul-searching inside of that organization and I think what is very important is that these mistakes don’t repeat themselves in the future,” he added.
The Royal BC Museum declined to make anyone available for an interview Wednesday.
Horgan said he wished the outgoing CEO “all the best” and thanked him “for his service to B.C.”
The institution has asked its board chair Daniel Muzyka to serve as acting CEO while a new leader is recruited.
Horgan said his government intends to publish the findings of the public service agency’s investigation into discrimination at the museum, but said he could not commit to a timeline for the work to be complete.
The premier said B.C. Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Melanie Mark is working closely with the agency and will “make sure any of the allegations are fully followed up.”
“I know the board takes this very seriously, as do senior staff at the museum,” Horgan said. “Again, I was alarmed by the allegations – multiple allegations. Work’s being done in that regard and when we have more to say I’m sure Minister Mark will lead that discussion.”
Mark said in a statement to CTV News that "racism must not be tolerated in our province and it has absolutely no place in the provincial public service."
She added, "I hope that a change in leadership will contribute to helping the museum heal and develop a more culturally safe and inclusive work environment."
Horgan said his government is working on tougher anti-discrimination legislation that it plans to table later this year.