Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2014

CAUT urges Royal Society to defend Canada’s cultural heritage

In early December the Department of Fisheries & Oceans, which is closing seven of its 11 libraries across the country, allowed scientists, consultants & members of the public to scavenge through what remained of the Eric Marshall Library at the Freshwater Institute on the University of Manitoba campus. []
CAUT has presented a searing indictment of federal government policy to the expert panel appointed by the Royal Society of Canada to review the status and future of Canada’s libra­ries and archives.

“The cultural heritage of this country is being decimated,” says CAUT executive director James Turk. “Prestigious groups like the Royal Society of Canada can play a critical role in its defense. Our hope is that their expert panel report will focus public attention on the massive damage the Conservative government is doing to research, cultural heritage and demo­cracy in this country.”

The Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel was established in May 2013 and mandated to investigate the state of libraries and archives in Canada and make recommendations for ensuring their futur health.

The CAUT brief to the RSC panel outlines the ongoing attack by the federal government on Canada’s central cultural institutions and programs.

It noted that at Library and Archives Canada virtually all private acquisitions have ceased. Materials such as the private papers of famous Canadians or important institutions and companies that collectively provide a portrait of Canada’s diverse social history are no longer being collected.

Library and Archives Canada has laid off 20 per cent of its staff and wiped out the jobs of specialist archivists who provide the necessary roadmaps to library and archive collections. The institution has stopped lending material through local libraries, effectively leaving the vast majority of Canadians — those who cannot afford to travel to Ottawa — with no access to the national collections. Under more recent cuts, Library and Archives has also eliminated the National Archival Development Program that helped hundreds of small museums across the country preserve local history.

As CAUT’s report makes clear, the problem goes far beyond the changes to programs and services at Library and Archives Canada.

The Conservative government has also closed dozens of federal departmental libraries across the country. No effort was made to assess the impacts of these closures, and for many of the libraries affected there is no formal plan to re­house their materials. Researchers and community members report a treasure trove of information, including irreplaceable collections, being shredded, sent to landfills, or give away.

Parks Canada has also been affected by budget cuts, to the tune of $29 million annually, resulting in more than 600 positions being eliminated, including an 80 per cent reduction in archaeologists and conservators. The remaining 20 specialists are now responsible for millions of artifacts and the archaeology at 42 national parks, 167 department-administered national historic sites and four national marine conservation areas in the country. The agency’s six archaeology labs have been closed and regional artifact collections moved to Ottawa, effectively hindering researchers’ projects across the country.

Finally, in the fall of 2012 the federal government announced plans to rebrand the popular Canadian Museum of Civilization, giving it a new name — the Canadian Museum of History — and mandate that removed reference to research and helping Canadians develop a critical understanding of the past. The museum’s office of research and collections has been abolished, and the museum’s curators and collections managers have been placed under the management of the vice-president of exhibitions. This has significantly undermined the research function of the museum. The bill to change the museum’s name and mandate became law on Dec. 12, 2013.

“Our hope is that the brief provided by CAUT, along with the many other testimonials received from dozens of other organizations and individuals will prompt the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel to condemn the federal government’s actions,” Turk said. “We also hope the panel’s recommendations send a strong message for the restoration of Canada’s cultural institutions and programs.”

Information on CAUT’s campaign to protect Canada’s history and cultural heritage is available at