The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has come out against the Conservative government’s plan to use a prime site next to the Supreme Court of Canada building for its increasingly controversial new Memorial to the Victims of Communism.
The institute, which represents some 4,800 members, issued a statement this afternoon calling for the government to reverse its decision to erect the imposing, concrete monument in the prominent location, suggesting a return to the previous plan, which was to put a major building on the site.
Before Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won the 2006 election, the location not far west of the Parliament Buildings was earmarked for a new Federal Court of Canada Building, which was to have been named after Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
“The proposed location, adjacent to the Supreme Court of Canada, represents Canada’s democratic values and respect for justice,” the institute said in a news release. “We believe this land should be reserved for a building whose purpose, quality and dignity are commensurate with its context.”
It goes on to say the building “should reflect the impartiality and apolitical aspirations of Canada’s justice system.” This seems to echo the concerns of Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
In a letter sent last fall to the deputy minister of public works, first obtained and reported on by Maclean’s last month, McLachlin wrote of the short-listed designs for the memorial: “Regrettably, some of the proposed designs for the memorial could send the wrong message within the judicial precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice.”
The architectural institute also made direct reference to an earlier Maclean’s report on how the National Capital Commission’s advisory committee on planning, design and realty had opposed the site for memorial. In fact, the advisory committee’s chair, Larry Beasely, Vancouver’s former chief planner, also said his committee, beyond its concerns about the location, didn’t like the winning design for the memorial.
According to the institute, Beasley’s committee recommended an alternative site, across Wellington Street and about 300 m west of the current proposed location, in a park-like setting called the Garden of the Provinces and Territories. However, the private group Tribute to Liberty, which is spearheading the memorial project, has reportedly rejected sites less prominent than the one next to the Supreme Court.
Despite the mounting criticism of the memorial, there is no sign the government will consider backing away from the plan. Employment Minister Jason Kenney, one of Prime Minister Harper’s most powerful lieutenants, is an outspoken supporter of Tribute to Liberty. As well, time is short for any opposition to gain momentum.
The government has announced that construction of “major elements” will be completed and ready for inauguration some time next fall, which means most of the work would be done before the Oct. 19 date slated for the next federal election. The government has committed $3 million to the project. Tribute to Liberty is raising millions more, partly by offering those who donate at least $1,000 the chance to “forever memorialize the name of a loved one” on a wall to be incorporated into the memorial complex.