Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK

Published on: 13 Jan 2016

Ottawa, 13 January 2016 

The Honourable Stéphane Dion
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario  
K1A 0G2

Minister Dion's Response - May 5, 2016  

Dear Minister Dion,

I write on behalf of The Canadian Historical Association / La Société historique du Canada, a bilingual not-for-profit and charitable association devoted to fostering the scholarly study and communication of history in Canada. The CHA/SHC has consistently urged the federal government to support the study of Canadian history and society internationally, and expressed concern about the previous government’s cuts to a small but internationally important program, “Understanding Canada.” We believe, while in opposition, you too raised this issue in the House of Commons. This year, we also wrote a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs about changes to the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK; these changes, largely overseen by the current High Commissioner, raised serious concerns about the use and oversight of Foundation monies meant for study and research on Canada in the UK. (we have attached that letter).

Both these issues remain of central concern to us, and we urge you to take them up, moving the government in a more enlightened, internationalist direction that values knowledge creation, education and international good will and understanding. The Understanding Canada program, originally introduced in the 1970, provided funding to educators and students to encourage the study of Canada abroad; it was considered a remarkable success in terms of broadening and deepening international knowledge about Canada, encouraging comparative international research connections, and fostering a positive image of Canada. It was also a remarkable financial success. It was cut despite a report to the government at the time that it produced a “14-fold return from its $5-million annual investment.”

Issues relating to the study of Canada were raised again this year, when Board members of the Foundation for the Study of Canada in the UK were forced to resign after speaking out about the direct political interference of the High Commissioner in the Foundation, despite the fact that his role was supposed to be “arms length.” Although protests were raised, including by the CHA/SHC, the previous government defended these changes, which we believe directly contravened the original intent of the Foundation. The Foundation today has no Board members who are Canadianist academics (no matter what their citizenship), and no representation of any kind for those professionally involved in any way in the fields of social sciences, arts and humanities. The CHC remains inappropriately in control of this charity to the detriment of its original and primary mandate.

We urge you to read our previous letter, consult with those academic researchers in the UK forced off the Foundation Board, as well as organizations in Canada like the Canadian Studies Network/Réseau d’études canadiennes, the organization dedicated to national and international scholarship on Canadian Studies. We believe there is an opportune moment now to re-direct Canada’s image abroad and to foster excellent research on Canada in a global context. Restoring appropriate support to the internationalist endeavour of Canadian Studies will help to do this. So will intervention in the Canadian High Commission’s (CHC) embarrassing role in the Foundation fiasco in the UK.

We write on behalf of the Canadian Historical Association, a professional association which represents over one thousand historians in Canada, to express our deep concern about the recent resignations of Board members from the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK. As you know, their resignations were public protests against a motion forthe removal of the Vice-Chair (Academic), Professor Rachel Killick, a motion brought by threenewly-appointed pro tem board members, whoare employees of the Canadian High Commission in London. These recent events threaten to endanger the promotion of research about Canada in the UK, and they suggest political interference in a charitable organization and in academic scholarship: both of these are extremely dangerous.

The Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK has facilitated and encouraged research on Canada in the UK for many years, playing an important role in increasing knowledge about Canada, its history, its lands, and its peoples, through the funding of both research and exchanges. Indeed, that is its mandate: money was donated to the Foundation to enhance the study of Canada in the UK. As professional historians, we can attest to the Foundation’s important role in promoting a broader and more complex understanding of Canadian history, including the unique ties between Canada and Britain. That mandate is now endangered.

In the past, the CHC had a properly arms-length role in this charity. Although the High Commissioner at one time was the Honorary Chair of the Foundation Board, ex officio, and presided over the Board meetings, his role was essentially advisory. In 2006-7, the Canadian Government decided that it would be better to have the High Commissioner withdraw from the Foundation Board in order to avoid any conflict of interest, or perception thereof in funding matters. This took place at the Board meeting of 22 March, 2007.  Note that the Foundation’s own annual report has characterized the relationship this way: "The Canadian High Commission authorizes its Academic Relations Unit to retain links with the activities of the Foundation in an arm’s length capacity." CHC representatives from the Commercial Relations section (since the Academic Relations section within the CHC no longer exists) therefore attend the Board meetings of the Foundation, but as ex officio observers. 

Under the current High Commissioner, Gordon Campbell, this “arms length” relationship has changed drastically. The CHC has made suggestions as to the sorts of roles the Foundation might usefully play, and more recently has indicated that it wanted the Foundation to re-direct funds away from academic research to “big impact” ideas, susceptible of corporate and other fund raising. The High Commissioner addressed the Foundation at the June Board meeting to stress the importance of this shift, urging the Board to move expeditiously in that direction, noting that if the Foundation did not, the High Commission would be unable to help it maintain the status of the Foundation as a recognized charity in Canada. This is, in itself, is extremely disturbing: CBC reports indicate that the High Commission was using its influence in Ottawa over charitable funding to press the Foundation in a new direction. Those members of the Board who understood the mandate of the Foundation, and who understood the need for an arms-length relationship with the CHC, were shocked.

In an e-mail circulated to the Board on 2 December 2014, the High Commissioner requested postponement of the already scheduled 4 December Board meeting so that he could appoint four new Board members, using a clause which was absent from the original documentation of the charity, though it appeared later in a subsequent version.  The rescheduled meeting on 16 January, 2015 had four new CHC appointees. The High Commissioner, however, had only identified by then one further Canadian appointee and so placed on the Board pro-tem the three CHC employees who subsequently brought forward the motion for the removal of Professor Killick. This was voted on in absence of Margaret MacMillan, Diana Carney, Steve Hewitt and Susan Hodgett, who had already resigned in protest. As a consequence, there are currently no representatives, on the Foundation, of the Canadian Studies academic community in the UK.

Surely, a direct demand from the High Commission (as intimated to her beforehand) that the Vice-Chair (Academic) of the Board resign her post or be forced out, does not fit the definition of "arm's length." This shocking lack of due process and political interference threatens to sully the name of a respected charitable foundation which has been dedicated to enhancing Canadian Studies in the UK since 1974. As historians and scholars, we are committed to the encouragement and widest possible dissemination of knowledge. We are also committed to high-quality, evidence-based knowledge which is judged by one’s professional peers, and which is free from political interference: that is the essence of academic freedom. The tragedy in this case is that both the dissemination of knowledge about Canada and unfettered scholarly investigation are threatened. We urge you to intervene in this unacceptable state of affairs with the High Commission in London and rectify what is becoming a major public embarrassment in both Canada and the UK.  

Joan Sangster                              
Canadian Historical Association
cc. Opposition critics for Foreign affairs, Rachel Killick and ousted Board members.



Latest from Twitter

#cdnhist #twitterstorians #HistoryMatters @ACSUS Appel à propositions - 26e conférence biennale, ACSUS 2021 - Le C…

View all Tweets

Contact Us

Canadian Historical Association
1912-130 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON, K1P 5G4