Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship

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Franke James is a Canadian artist, author and activist who has drawn inspiration from the Canadian government’s attempts to silence her. She is the author of three award-winning books, Banned on the Hill (2013), Bothered By My Green Conscience (2009), and Dear Office-Politics: the game everyone plays (2009).

BANNED ON THE HILL by Franke James
What would you do if you discovered you were blacklisted by your own government for speaking up on climate change and the tar sands? In Banned on the Hill, artist and author Franke James, tells how she first discovered she was being censored by the Canadian ‘Harper’ government — and how she fought back. It’s an inspiring story that shows how creativity, crowd-funding and investigative digging can work together to shine a bright light on a government that is more interested in message control than a citizen’s democratic right to free expression. Through eight visual essays, James traces her personal journey as an active citizen discovering the power of speaking out. Interviewed in the Guardian UK newspaper James said that she hoped the book would serve as a how-to guide to other activists hoping to take on the Harper administration, especially with humour. “It’s kind of like a judo flip, meaning that you can actually flip someone who is much bigger than you.”

Through entertaining, powerful and humorous real-life storytelling, James show us how to speak the hard truths — and get heard. She shows us why actions speak louder than words and how each of us can make a difference in our front yards, our city, our country and our world.

In 2015, James was awarded the inaugural PEN Canada / Ken Filkow Prize  for her “tenacity in uncovering an abuse of power, and commitment to fostering a national conversation in the face of censorship.” William Kowalski, chair of PEN Canada’s Canadian Issues Committee commented, “James’ struggle shows what lengths the government will go to in order to suppress dissent on key policy issues. It shows what certain leaders will try to get away with when they think no one is watching, and it shows just how important one voice can be when it comes to speaking the truth.”

In 2014, James received the Liberty Award for Excellence in the Arts, from the BC Civil Liberties Association.

“Franke James is the recipient of this year’s Excellence in the Arts award. Franke has spent years producing original artwork inspired by social and environmental justice. Franke’s artwork and books span print, TV, radio, and online mediums in Canada, the USA, and many other parts of the world. Outspoken on environmental issues, her works have come into conflict with the federal government – leading to the cancellation of her 20-city European art exhibition because of government interference from high-level bureaucrats. Her experiences as an artist facing muzzling and censorship by the federal government led to the publishing of her third book, Banned on the Hill, which chronicles her experience with free expression through eight “visual essays”. Her focus on environmental and social justice, and her fight for free expression, are a few of the reasons she is this year’s recipient.” BC Civil Liberties Association

“Banned on the Hill: It’s a tour de force”

Dr. Thomas Pedersen, Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions

“Banned on the Hill. It’s absolutely outstanding. It’s a tour de force and if you haven’t bought a copy, buy one. And then buy a second one for your kids and your grandchildren. Because we’ve got to get the youth. We don’t have an awful lot of youth in the room here tonight.

“We need more youth to start reading these books because it resonates with them. Franke gave me a copy, I have a 17 year-old son. He looked through it and he said, “Wow.” He said, “Dad this is better than anything you do. Well, he’s right. He’s right because he immediately related to the visual [power that Franke generated].”

The Big Leap: From Picking Up Dog Poop to Getting Off Fossil Fuels

‘Banned on the Hill’ Makes Headlines

Guardian UK

The Guardian UK “There is apparently one woman whom the government can’t shut up”

Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government’s attempt to silence herby Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, The Guardian UK:
“Visual essays by Franke James reveal how the ‘troublesome artist’ was targeted because her views on climate change clashed with the push to develop Alberta’s tar sands… But there is apparently one woman whom the government can’t shut up: the Toronto environmental writer, illustrator and activist Franke James, who turned the efforts to silence her into material for a new book. Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship, released this week, shows how Canadian bureaucrats tried to silence James because her views on climate change clashed with the Harper government’s push to develop Alberta’s tar sands. The story is told through visual essays as well as official emails obtained by James, in which government bureaucrats discuss the troublesome artist and her work. Link


Don Martin, CTV Power Play “It’s not nice to fool with Franke James.”

Don Martin interviews Franke James, Author of “Banned on the Hill’ & Climate Activist on CTV’s Power Play on May 30, 2013. Link

Toronto Star “Franke James… no shortage of gumption and political acumen”

TORONTO STAR: Climate activist gets even with new book
Print headline, A6, May 27, 2013; By Raveena Aulakh
“Franke James, the artist in question, first got mad — now she is getting even. James, a Toronto-based activist with no shortage of gumption and political acumen, has turned the federal government’s efforts to silence her into a new book. Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship was released last week and tells the story of how Canadian bureaucrats withdrew support for James because her views on climate change didn’t match those held by the Harper government. She has used access to information requests and visual essays to highlight how the Conservatives withdrew funding for the European art tour because, she writes, they didn’t like that she believes Canada is failing to act on climate change. “As a Canadian citizen, to know that the government is interfering in private business is really shocking. It’s undemocratic,” said James. “If art has to agree with government policy, then art is government propaganda.”

Vancouver Observer “The attempt to silence Franke James has, instead, ensured that both her work and her message are recognized around the world.”

VANCOUVER OBSERVER: Deep pocket PR vs. artist Franke James: the fight’s on
By Andrea Bennett “If James’ recent interview with the Guardian is any indication, it seems Harper’s communication strategy has achieved the level of international notoriety, the apparent ‘the stuff of legend’… The attempt to silence Franke James has, instead, ensured that both her work and her message are recognized around the world.”

Ottawa Citizen “It’s simply by disagreeing with them that I made it on to their list.”

OTTAWA CITIZEN: Toronto artist Franke James says Harper government monitored her climate change artwork
By Mike de Souza

“More than two dozen senior officials and diplomats in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government monitored information about a Toronto artist over her criticism of the oil and gas industry’s environmental performance. This behind the scenes reaction was described in passages from more than 2,000 internal federal emails and other records, featured in a new book – Banned on the Hill – released this month by the artist and environmental activist, Franke James.

“This is a small fraction of all the people who’ve been monitoring my file and this is ridiculous,” said James in an interview. “It’s simply by disagreeing with them that I made it on to their list.”

The Globe and Mail Government Bullying: “the shocking saga of Franke James”, Gerry Caplan

GLOBE AND MAIL: Conservative attacks are nothing but bullying
By Gerald Caplan

“Ms. Casault could have a great class on government bullying by introducing her kids to the shocking saga of Franke James. Ms. James is an artist/author/environmental activist. Her work is great fun for kids of all ages and they can Google her easily. Two years ago, she was supposed to have her work exhibited in 20 European cities. But the local NGO that was sponsoring her was bullied and intimidated so badly by Canadian officials that it pulled out and the entire show was canceled. Her terrible crime? As a spokesperson for our government candidly explained, Ms. James’ show was about climate change and her opinions were contrary to those of the government. That was it. Here’s the big message that all kids better learn if they’re to survive in a bullying culture. With the rarest exception, Stephen Harper and his minions never ever admit they’re wrong. Whatever they do is always honorable, whatever opponents do is always dishonorable. Even, repeatedly, smack in the middle of the entire WrightDuffyGate scandal, led by the Prime Minister himself boasting to his caucus that no government has ever been more accountable than his.”

Huffington Post “Franke James… Stand up and fight for what you believe is right”

HUFFINGTON POST CANADA The story of Franke James and the art of activism
By Kevin Grandia

“Franke James is doing what every Canadian is taught from an early age: to stand up and fight for what you believe is right. Franke has turned her art, her story and her activism into a visually stunning book, Banned on the Hill: a True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship, and on Monday her book got international attention with a feature in UK’s Guardian media outlet. The attention is well deserved. Her art is very cool, and no doubt the success of her new book will rekindle the emotions that her state-censored European exhibit elicited from the ruling Conservative Party.”

La Presse “The appearance of censorship denounced by liberals”

LA PRESSE: “It’s deplorable, but, unfortunately, it’s not surprising,” said Mr. LeBlanc, in an email response to questions from La Presse.
By Charles Cote

“The censorship of Toronto environmental artist Franke James, whose traveling exhibition project in Europe, according to her, was torpedoed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is considered “deplorable” by the Liberal affairs critic foreigners, Dominic LeBlanc.”

Environmentalist messages
Ms. James is an illustrator who transmits environmental messages in her works, some of which directly criticize the orientations of the Harper government. …

For his part, Steven Guilbeault, from Équiterre, says that “it really feels like a dictatorship.” “It’s still incredible that we put the entire diplomatic apparatus at the service of an ideology to reduce a person to silence,” he said. This is the kind of story you hear in China. It’s censorship in the style: “Either you think like us, or we will do everything to discredit you, to silence you, to deprive you of subsidies.”

“But this isn’t the first time that conservatives have tried to silence people who don’t think like them,” he said. I was at the forefront of this myself in 2009 in Copenhagen, when Steven Harper’s current communications director accused me of being behind a hoax. He did this to silence me, to discredit me. He ended up saying that he was doing this because he was accusing me of speaking badly about Canada when I should be speaking well of it.”

Dan Murphy, “The book is gorgeous and defiant”

AMAZON Review: 5.0 stars June 6, 2013 By Dan Murphy

“What happens when a government yanks cultural funding in order to muzzle an artist who is “off message” on Canada’s tarsands? If the artist is Franke James, you get one beautiful, colourful, well-documented and angry book that takes us from the offending art bound for Europe to the government e-mails that blacklisted it — to the spirited push-back by artists and civil libertarians outraged over the censorship. Documenting the episode and its aftermath like a graphic novel, the book is gorgeous and defiant. And it’s a tidy lesson for government: When you try to shut up an artist, the artist might just get a whole lot louder. A great read.”

Dogwood Initiative Blacklisted Activist Fights Back With Chilling Censorship Story Canadian author and artist Franke James’s first-hand account of the federal government’s successful attempt to block her international art show …

DeSmog Canada Artist Franke James Live and (Actually) Uncensored (Since, Apparently, She Refuses to Be)

GRIST MAGAZINE: Artful Dodger: How one anti-Keystone activist fought the blacklist – A Franke discussion: How one artist fought back when the feds tried to shut her up

RED EYE RADIO: Artist Franke James on how her work came to clash with the Harper government’s message of Tar Sands development.



“This book makes you think, and it gets you angry. Bravo!”
CLAYTON RUBY, C.M., B.A., LL.B., LL.M., LL.D. (honoris causa)

“The Canadian government has clamped down on scientists who tell the truth about the tarsands—and it’s tried to shut up artists too. Happily, Franke James is indefatigable!”

“Franke James’ commitment to art, free expression and political commentary put her in the cross-hairs of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. See what the government didn’t want the world to see.”
ELIZABETH MAY, Leader, Green Party of Canada, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands

“‘Banned on the Hill’ is such a feast for the eyes one could almost overlook the disturbing and sobering tale that it tells. In the battle to communicate the threat of climate change, we need all the ammunition we can muster. Franke brings it, with a deadly combination of artistic expression, verve, and wit.”
MICHAEL E. MANN, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

“Franke James uses wit, insight, and keen powers of observation to graphically portray hard political truths about Canada’s Harper government, climate change, and our precious natural world.”
LINDA SOLOMON, Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief, Vancouver Observer

“Oppression begins with the suppression of dissent. The first to be silenced are the artists and the activists. In Franke James, Stephen Harper found both. Franke is an example of how to effectively fight back.” JOHN BENNETT, Executive Director, Sierra Club Canada

“No wonder the Canadian government thinks Franke James is dangerous. One recent Canadian economic study says 78% of proven Canadian fossil fuel reserves must stay in-ground to meet climate targets… Franke’s art not only explains the global climate crisis in understandable and witty ways, but she’s a pretty damn good organizer too, as her free speech campaign has proven. Not so smart, Canadian poobahs— Franke James has something to say, and you really helped her get the word out.”
MICHAEL NOBLE, Executive Director at Fresh Energy

“Franke James’ work is honest, powerful and funny. Her work is not to be missed by anyone interested in climate change or the future of Canada!”
TZEPORAH BERMAN, Author and Co-founder ForestEthics

“Franke’s visual essays are brilliant and incisive and help shine a light on one of our country’s most pressing issues—the erosion of democracy. Her work should serve as an inspiration to concerned citizens everywhere.”
EMMA GILCHRIST, Communications Director, Dogwood Initiative

“It is great! Some welcome gallows humor in the Through the Looking Glass World that is Harperland!”
DR. DAVID SCHINDLER, Killam Memorial Chair, University of Alberta

“Franke James fearlessly devotes her creative energy and artistic talent to stand up for Canadian democracy and the health of our planet. Her dedication can serve as a model for all who seek to restore Canada’s reputation as a principled nation that must take action on climate change.”
BRENDAN DEMELLE, Executive Director, DeSmogBlog

“Franke James is doing what’s right for our country. We need more voices like her’s to punch through the right wing rhetoric and bullying that has besieged our great country.”
KEVIN GRANDIA, President of Spake Media House

“Whether deflating ethical oil or unraveling our access to information system, Franke James defends Canada’s natural capital with provocative imagery and tough questions. Banned on the Hill may be the planet’s most enjoyable how-to-write-to-your-elected official guide, and it reveals that the Harper regime can’t bully every foe into submission.”
ERIC RUMBLE, Editor-in-chief, Alternatives Journal

“Franke James isn’t afraid to take on anyone, from the Harper government to big corporations. When my co-editor, Kim Blank, and I decided to edit a book of cultural readings for university students, we knew that we wanted James and Rachel Carson to anchor the conclusion on the environment.”
STEPHEN EATON HUME, Author of Economics Writing

“While Canadians are busily working and trying to provide a future for their children the Harper government is busily working to assure the future for big oil and fossil fuel corporations. Franke James’ work illustrates in delightful fashion how these goals are incompatible, incurring the wrath of the government in the process. We are left to ask ourselves, ‘do we want the government suppressing free speech and interfering in the work of Canadian artists?’”
KARL KNOX, Radio Host, CJLO, Concordia University

“Franke James’ art and activism embodies the good-hearted, creative, and compassionately critical voice in response to a world out of whack. This important book brings to light a government that would dare to silence such a sane and necessary voice.”
JON-ERIK LAPPANO, Environmental Educator, Former Managing Editor of Corporate Knights

Richard Littlemore’s foreword to Banned on the Hill
“Franke James is hopelessly naïve and incurably optimistic. Seriously, in an age when so many people trudge through life like death camp guards, blithely accepting that politicians are corrupt, that climate change is inevitable, and that their best recourse is to go along for the ride, Franke James can’t contain the urge, when she sees something wrong, to stand up and shout “That’s not right!”” Richard Littlemore, co-author of Climate Cover-up

Speaking Event – Canadian Journalists for Free Expression:

Presented by CJFE in partnership with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. Event description. [Live Blog]


On May 2, 2013, CJFE launched the publication of its annual Review of Free Expression in Canada with “a salon-style conversation focusing on this hard won and frequently challenged Charter right.” The evening honoured World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Franke James spoke about free expression and presented excerpts from her new book, “Banned on the Hill”. See the live blog from the event

PUBLICATION: May 13 2013
ISBN 9780991696109
Page Count: 376
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 8″ x 10″
Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
Language: English
Color: Full Color with Bleed

Available as an ebook.

Buy the print book at these locations…
BuyButton_AmazonEU Discount price varies. List price is $52.00 USD Shipped from the USA.

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