Winners of Afghan war memorial design competition claim they were ‘cheated’ by Ottawa, threaten legal action | CBC News


Architect Renée Daoust and her team say they’re considering a lawsuit to get what they argue is rightfully theirs: the $3.5 million contract to design and build a monument in Ottawa to commemorate Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

Last June, Daoust and her team learned that they had won the jury-based competition but would not be getting the contract to build the monument.

Since then, the team has worked on winning support in the cultural sector, done rounds of media interviews, appeared before a parliamentary committee and tried to put pressure on the government.

One member of the team, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, even raised the topic directly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a private phone call.

An artist's impression of a proposed memorial shows a large, sand-coloured and wall-like momument, with a large gap in the middle.
The design by Team Daoust. It was chosen by an expert panel as the winner of the design competition, but the federal government overruled the decision and awarded the design to another competitor. (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Now, the Daoust team is looking at taking Ottawa to court, either to obtain the contract or to receive more in compensation than the $34,200 the federal government offered it last year.

“This is not the route that we wanted to take. We might be taking a look at it again because it’s taking so much time,” Daoust said in an interview at the Montreal offices of Daoust Lestage Lizotte Stecker.

“There is a great number of people who were cheated as part of this project.”

While she acknowledges a legal battle with the federal government would be “David against Goliath,” Daoust said her company may have no other option because Ottawa is refusing to enter into any meaningful dialogue.

Daoust said she is seeking justice for her team — Arbour and artist Luca Fortin — because the contracting process was influenced by politics.

“We’re very concerned because it does create a precedent, a very dangerous precedent for Canada in terms of competitions, public art competitions, architectural competitions and so on,” she said. “There was political interference, so we don’t want this to happen again.”

More than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 — mostly military personnel but also some government and humanitarian workers. Of those, 158 Canadian military personnel and seven civilians died during the conflict.

The Daoust team won a jury competition in 2021 that was supposed to choose the design team for the monument. But on the morning of June 19, 2023, the federal government informed the Daoust team that it would not be getting the contract.

A few hours later, at a press conference, the government announced that another team, led by western Indigenous artist Adrian Stimson, had offered the winning design.

An artist holds a placard with a monument design in a field.
Artist Adrian Stimson holds a rendition of his team’s winning design for the National Monument to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan at the future site in Ottawa on June 19, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa explained its decision by citing an online survey, conducted in 2021, that found that Stimson’s design was the favourite among members of the armed forces, military veterans and their families.

The Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party of Canada have criticized Ottawa’s decision in the House of Commons.

Working behind the scenes, Liberal MP Joël Lightbound also tried and failed to change the government’s decision. He is now publicly supporting the Daoust team, saying there is a “procedural flaw” in the federal process.

Lightbound said that while he is confident his government is simply seeking to respect the wishes of veterans, the current situation is untenable.

WATCH | Afghanistan memorial has been mired in controversy: 

Quebec architects threaten to sue over Afghanistan war monument

The group of Quebec architects that was first selected and then rejected to build Canada’s national monument to Afghan mission veterans is threatening to sue the government if they aren’t given the full contract.

“The road to hell sometimes is paved with good intentions and I think that in the process of trying to achieve that good intention, that good goal, the process has not been respectful of the rules that were established by the government itself,” said the Liberal MP for the Quebec City riding of Louis-Hébert.

“From the moment the jury makes its decision and that those were the rules, for me, it goes without saying that it must be honoured.”

According to documents released to a parliamentary committee, the government ignored its own legal advice in giving the contract to the Stimson team.

The documents say lawyers told the government it had just two options: awarding the contract to the Daoust team or cancelling the competition.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Ginette Petitpas Taylor told Radio-Canada that the consultation conducted by her government in 2021 did not constitute a “scientific survey.”

Ginette Pettipas Taylor speaks to reporters
Veterans Affairs Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor says the military community expressed a clear preference for Stimson’s design. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

She said she has heard clearly from members of the military community who want to see the Stimson project move forward.

“Overwhelmingly, they responded that for them, the Stimson concept really represented the loss, the sacrifice and the courage of the men and women that served in Afghanistan,” said Petitpas Taylor.

She said the government wants the design finalized by next year.

“We really want to make sure that the construction of this monument is done in a timely fashion. The veterans have indicated they’ve been waiting a long time and they certainly want to have an opportunity to have an area to be able to reflect on the mission with their kids, their grandchildren,” she added. 

Stimson, now working to finalize the design of his monument, said he didn’t wish to comment on the controversy surrounding the selection process.

An artist's impression of a proposed memorial shows four sets of soldiers' helmets and equipment vests, facing each other in a circle.
The design chosen by the federal government for Canada’s national memorial to the Afghan war. This design is by Team Stimson. (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Arbour called the federal process to choose the final design “un-Canadian.”

“Rather than have a Canadian government 20 years down the line apologize for having dishonoured the people they wanted to honour by having a process that is not an adequate process … they should reverse the decision,” she said. 

The former Supreme Court justice said she recently schooled Prime Minister Trudeau on the contract process during a private call.

“I said it’s very important to follow the rules. When you have a procurement process for the expenditure of Canadian taxpayers money, the expectation is you follow the rules,” she said.

She said she believes the government could compromise by letting the Daoust team build on the memorial site while paying the Stimson team to build elsewhere.

“If veterans want to have another monument that more reflects their contribution to this mission, Canada is a big country and they can build another monument elsewhere,” she said.

“But here, rather than tainting this monument with an undemocratic process where the rules were not followed, which will always, I find, harm the honour of those we want to honour, they should correct that. We have time.”


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