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“Banned on the Hill”

Ottawa art exhibit highlights government interference in environmental education

by Crystel Hajjar

Artist Franke James, Banned from the Hill Photo by Billiam James
Artist Franke James, Banned from the Hill Photo by Billiam James

Toronto artist Franke James is displaying environmental artwork on Bank Street in protest of the Canadian government’s interference in her 20-city European art show and its decision to revoke $5,000 in funding intended to help tour the pieces.

The six-poster exhibit, entitled “Banned on the Hill,” was funded through crowd funding – a method employed by artists and organizations to finance projects through a collective pooling of resources by supporters, often via the Internet. The exhibit is part of the much larger show “What can one person do?”, which was supposed to travel Europe as part of a series of workshops facilitated by James.

Each of the colourful posters are addressed to Stephen Harper with a large “Dear Prime Minister” on top. They are designed to protest the way that the Harper government has blacklisted environmentalists and muzzled scientists who have been outspoken about the pending dangers of climate change.

The tour was to be produced by Nektarina Non Profit, a Croatian non-governmental organization that seeks to educate and inspire people to care about the environment. The NGO applied for $5,000 in funds from the Canadian Embassy in Croatia under its climate change education program.

Article Six of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change requires that Canada provide funding for climate change education. According to Nektarina Non Profit, the Canadian Embassy verbally indicated that the funding would be granted. They were later told by the government that this would not be the case.

A recent request conducted by James through the Access to Information and Privacy legislation (ATIP) showed that $5,000 in funding was approved for the show on Apr. 29, 2011.

James’ ATIP request also revealed that Jeremy Wallace, deputy director of the Climate Change office at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, advised against funding James’ tour.  Wallace argued the project is against Canada’s interests.

“MDC [the Climate Change office] has concerns that the funding would not be consistent with our interests and approach,” said Wallace in an email written May 5 to Debra Price, the legal counsel at Canada’s Embassy in Romania, which he asked not to be shared with the requester. “[It] would in fact run counter to Canada’s interest more broadly,” the email states.

The ATIP report shows that parts of the emails were blacked out under Section 15(1) because its release could be “injurious” to matters of international affairs and defense.

Representatives from the government had publicly denied that funding was ever guaranteed or withdrawn. The Harper government has not responded as of yet concerning the content of the posters or the results of the ATIP request.

Nektarina Non Profit hoped the tour would positively inspire people to make changes and reduce their environmental impact. They found Canada’s decision to withdraw funding surprising and disappointing.

“This was most surprising given Canada’s reputation over many decades as a leader in promoting democratic freedoms, the right to free expression and also supporting the international community,” said Nektarina Non Profit in a statement.

James told the Leveller that “they [the Harper government] continued to interfere behind-the-scenes, eventually causing the show to be cancelled.”

The Toronto Star reports that Nektarina Non Profit’s private sponsor, whose name remains undisclosed, told the organization that a Canadian official contacted them directly. This led the company to revoke its sponsorship of the workshops.

James’ art exhibit seeks to highlight the government’s active intervention in the tour.

“I hope to shine a bright light on how the Harper government is trying to silence environmental messengers,” said James. “[The posters are] designed to provoke a response, but it certainly does not have any violence and hatred in it; it is asking such common sense questions like ‘why don’t we make polluters pay?’” 

“It is totally shocking that this is what happens in Canada,” said James.

“Even if people don’t agree with my position, I think that most Canadians would agree that I have the right to speak.”

The “Banned on the Hill” display started on Nov. 2 and runs until Nov. 27. It is meant to draw attention to the banned exhibit, raise awareness on climate change and engage the public in a discussion. James’ work combines art, photography and writing to produce visual essays that highlight various environmental and social issues.

This article first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Nov./Dec.2011).


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