In 2011, Canadian artist Franke James from Victoria B.C. received a $5000 Federal Arts Grant. She intended to take her work on a European art tour in partnership with Nektarina, a Croatia based environmental NGO. Her show, aimed at inspiring people to reduce their carbon footprint was quickly deemed UN-Canadian. Two days later, a letter from the senior director of the Foreign Affairs Dept. Climate Change Division revoked her funding as something that would “run counter to Canadian interests”.
So what business has the Foreign Affairs office with Canadian Art Grants? Franke James asked the same question, one that led to four years of bat shit bureaucratic red tape, the possession of over 2000 government emails obtained through freedom of information legislation, and an award winning book – Banned on The Hill (winner of the 2014 Independent Book Publishers Gold Award for Best Regional Non-Fiction)
So what could possibly lurk in 2000 internal government documents? Astoundingly, you first have to dissect original disclosure from eventual disclosures. Initially, “multiple phrases in the original documents were exempted from disclosure under the Access to Information Act. The government claimed making them public would, as stated in the law, be “injurious” to international relations and would violate the confidentiality of unidentified third parties who supplied government with information”.
Tireless complaints to Office of the Information Commissioner, Depts. of Foreign Affairs, and Trade and Development delivered uncensored documents – verification of Stephen Harper’s conservative government stance on Canadians who dare oppose his precious tar-sands. Dozens of emails from senior officials detailing monitoring of James for her views on oil-sands, and not “supporting Canadian interests”.
Said James: “What is surprising and so shocking (with the latest disclosures) is that they’re using high-level security clauses in order to black out stuff which is partisan and embarrassing. These guys have been abusing that (exemption) clause in my case, they’re blatantly covering up stuff.”
Pondering Franke James, Canadians have to understand, this happened in 2011 – years before Bill C-51, in a time when Canadian minds retained a shred of innocence, a glimmer of idealistic naivety that Canada stood for something remarkable. I shudder to think what might become of Canada if Stephen Harper is allowed to continue his crusade.