What’s a talented artist like Franke James doing on a government hit list? She is being blacklisted by the Government of Canada. Granted, she published a visual essay asking Stephen Harper, “Why are you making us choose between the Economy and the Environment?”
That appears to be all it takes for the recently re-titled “Harper Government” to clip her wings as she prepares to take her art onto an international stage.
So much for democracy
I was under the impression that citizens of a democracy not only had the right to question governmental policies, they had the obligation. Apparently the Harper Government skipped that lesson in their civics classes.
Nektarina Non Profit in Croatia invited James “to raise environmental awareness with youth, and inspire teens to make their own climate change art.” With a $75,000 award from a corporate sponsor, they set to work arranging her visit.
The agency in Croatia responded enthusiastically and offered to help in getting agencies in other countries on board. Then in mid-May 2011, a Canadian embassy official told Nektarina they were withdrawing support for the visit. Since then, Franke James has been painted as a pariah by the very officials who should be proudly promoting her show. Not one Canadian embassy or official agency will have anything to do with her planned tour.
Who is this dangerous artist?
Franke James takes on a wide range of environmental issues on her blog, “My Green Conscience.” Her visual essays make complex issues understandable with their combination of graphics, clear details and personal observations. While taking government and corporations to task for their inaction on critical problems, as in Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box, she never hesitates to acknowledge her own struggles as she tries to live as green a life as possible (Paradise Unpaved). Her work focuses on solutions (The Beehive and the Hairball) and gives credit where it’s due (Who cares about the Forest?).
Somehow it is hard to equate this kind of green conscience with a seditious artist, but the government successfully threatened her traveling show’s international sponsor. They could cancel their support or lose millions of dollars worth of contracts. They canceled.
That $75,000 would have helped Nektarina Non Profit mount the show, but even without those critical funds, the small non-profit has remained committed to bringing James to Croatia. Here is how they describe her inspiration for them: “The uniqueness of her artwork is in combining science, art and storytelling, creating powerful and thought-provoking visual essays. Franke does not preach, she tells a story, educates and explains, leaving it to the viewers to make their own choices and decisions.”
Environmental recklessness trumps democracy
It seems Canada is not about to let one of its artists draw attention to the country’s miserable record on environmental issues. The official response to Nektarina’s refusal to cancel James’s show was delivered verbally: “She speaks against the Canadian Government.”
The intimidation did not stop there. Here’s another quote from the Nektarina Web site: “In the past few months we have encountered many difficulties in organizing the exhibitions, usually connected to interventions of the Canadian Government or institutions under Canadian governmental control. We continued to look for ways to collaborate with the home land of the artist, although at times we felt patronized and even intimidated, as a small NGO trying to reach an understanding with a powerful state.”
Apparently the Harper Government is unwilling to allow an artist to be welcomed abroad if that private citizen dares call into question any of its policies. This is totally unacceptable censorship, and it is time for Canadians, and anyone else who believes in free speech, to speak out.
Other voices question the government’s position
Charles Côté asked two experts to give their opinions for La Presse. Both Pierre Bosset, professor of law at the University of Quebec in Montreal and his colleague, Pierre Trudel of the University of Montreal, agreed James is being inappropriately and arbitrarily censored.
According to The Tyee’s detailed account, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade denies interference. The federal government also disputes the accusation of censorship, “claiming ‘Ms. James’ characterisation of her dealings with Candian officials does not appear to be based on facts.’”
Treehugger calls it “the kind of heavy-handed tactic that in the end, causes the government more embarrassment than if they had just let the show go ahead.” Greenpeace remarks, “Opposing the tar sands publicly in Canada is increasingly unpopular (at least with the government). Asking important questions such as ‘Why do we choose to wreck the environment in the very long term to save the economy in the very short term?’ or ‘Who is paying to clean up pollution?’ is now politically incorrect.’”
Support freedom of expression
I am an enthusiastic fan of Franke James’s work. Her visual essays have prodded me into giving more thought to my own contributions to the laying to waste of our beautiful planet. I encourage you to sign the petition below on behalf of this talented artist. Her work is too inspiring to be limited by the politics of intimidation.
Oh, and by the way, Mr. Prime Minister, here is that civics lesson your people missed. Under the Constitution Act of 1982, these Fundamental Freedoms are guaranteed to everyone in Canada: “(a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.”
Those freedoms do not stop at our borders.
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Graphics from Franke James, used by permission