Liberals agree to rethink controversial memorial to victims of communism

It's back to the drawing board — and a less controversial location -- for a much-maligned memorial to victims of communism in the national capital, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced Thursday.

OTTAWA — It’s back to the drawing board — and a less controversial location — for a much-maligned memorial to victims of communism in the national capital, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced Thursday.

Prior to the October federal election, the previous Conservative government had been planning to build the sprawling monument near the Supreme Court of Canada, despite a political outcry over the project’s design and location.

Instead, while a memorial will still proceed, it will be in a different location — a less prominent area of parkland known as the Garden of the Provinces and Territories, about a half-kilometre west of the country’s top court.

That location will be subject to the approval of the National Capital Commission, Joly told an Ottawa news conference.

Joly, who consulted with 30 groups and individuals shortly after the Liberals came to power, said the Canadian and international design experts she spoke with agreed the project should be reconsidered.

“Throughout my consultations, there was a clear consensus that the monument ought to be moved,” she said. “The original site of the project, the Garden of Provinces and Territories, again had consensus.”

The memorial was first proposed in 2008, but became a political football in the months before the federal election campaign when critics of both its design and location labelled it as a vote-getter for the Conservative party.

The ensuing controversy tainted the project, said Joly.

“The process of this monument was too political, too divisive, and ultimately far from its goal of remembering the horror of victims of communism.”

A federal panel that advises the National Capital Commission had lambasted the initial, sombre design for the memorial as potentially “detrimental to the dignity” of nearby Parliament Hill.

It had also flagged concerns about the project’s “negative symbolism” and structural safety.

And last summer, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Heritage Ottawa and architects Shirley Blumberg and Barry Padolsky filed a federal lawsuit one day after the NCC unveiled plans for a smaller, less-intrusive version of the monument.

Even that smaller version will have to be scrapped, since it won’t work at the new location, Joly said. Canadians will be asked to weigh in on alternatives through a process that’s expected to begin early in the new year.

“There will be a consultation process, whereby Canadians across this country will have the chance to have their voice heard from the outset of the memorial design process through the final selection.”

The project, originally tabbed at $5.5 million, should cost no more than $3 million, with the federal government capping its contribution at $1.5 million, Joly added.

Completion of the memorial is set for 2018.

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