The Foundation for Canadian Studies in the United Kingdom

Published on: 2 Mar 2015

The CHA expresses its deep concern about the recent resignations of Board members from the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the United Kingdom

Minister Nicholson's response - June 16, 2015

March 2, 2015 

The Honourable Robert Nicholson
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G2

Dear Mr. Nicholson,

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 United Kingdom. Historians have long played a large role in the development of Canadian Studies in the UK and on the Board of the foundation. As you know, their resignations were public protests against a motion for the removal of the Vice-Chair (Academic), Professor Rachel Killick, a motion brought by three newly-appointed pro tem board members, who are employees of the Canadian High Commission in London (CHC). 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 United Kingdom 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 has been donated to the Foundation since its creation in 1975 “to support teaching, research and publishing about Canada in the United Kingdom, and to promote academic links and student exchanges between Canadian and British universities”. 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. The reasons for this were not clearly stated but The High Commissioner urged the Board to move expeditiously in the “big impact” direction, noting that if the Foundation did not, the High Commission would be unable to support the annual renewal of the status of the Foundation as a recognized charity in Canada. This is, in itself, 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, 2015had four new CHC appointees. The High Commissioner, however, had only identified by then one further Canadian appointee and so placed on the Board protem 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 1975. 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.

Dominique Marshall                                       Joan Sangster                                                    Yves Frenette
President                                                            Vice-President                                                  Advocacy Chair
Canadian Historical Association                  Canadian Historical Association                  Canadian Historical Association

Cc: Paul Dewar - Official Opposition Critic for Foreign Affairs
       Marc Garneau – Liberal Critic for Foreign Affairs


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