Franke James Biography

by Franke James

Author, Artist, Activist 

Franke James (born in Toronto, Ontario) is a Canadian multi-media artist, author and activist focused on climate change, human rights, ethics, and freedom of expression. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is the author of three illustrated books Bothered By My Green Conscience (2009), Dear Office-Politics (2009), and Banned on the Hill (2013). In 2015, she was awarded the PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize for her work uncovering censorship by the Canadian Government. The Guardian described her as “The one woman whom the government can’t shut up.”


Early Career: Outdoor Art 

James began her artistic career in 1987 with a cross-Canada outdoor art exhibition on 48 foot billboards, sponsored by Manufacturers Life for their centennial. The $750,000 show ‘Painting the Town’ was conceived and curated by James, and featured original art by Jack Shadbolt, Mary Pratt, Yves Gaucher, Gathie Falk, Lynn Donoghue, Louis DeNiverville, and Franke James. It received coverage on the CBC’s The Journal, and in the print media. It won praise, however it was also James first brush with censorship. The artwork she submitted of a reclining female figure echoed a rolling landscape but was rejected as “inappropriate.” James substituted another artwork, a blazing red orchid which covered the entire 48 foot billboard.


Online Games and Social Satire

In 2002, Franke James created “Office-Politics” with her partner Billiam James. It was a satirical online game and daily cartoon about business ethics. The game was profiled in The Globe and Mail, “Office Politics: A back-stabber’s delight”, and the Edmonton Journal, “Lie, Cheat, Stab boss in back, you win,” in 2002. Apart from the humour, site users were able to submit their own office-politics problems in letters which were answered by a panel of business and ethics experts. Seven years later these letters and the answers were edited and published as a game book by Franke James, Dear Office-Politics: The game everyone plays in 2009. 

James’ interest in satirical political games spawned a Federal election game called “Whack the PM” in 2004, 2006, and 2008. It was covered in the media, making the front page of the National Post. Jane Taber, at The Globe and Mail, put it on her hotlist and said: “Hot: Whack-the-PM. The Internet election game has been a big hit during this campaign.”


Personal Responsibility and Climate Change Art

In 2006, news coverage about impending global warming, Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, and James’ experience receiving a poor score in a home energy audit, inspired her to embark on climate change activism. “We just take for granted that we are a land of snow and ice and hockey,” James said in an interview. “And, yet, it could disappear within our lifetime.” Her visual essay, “A Green Winter: Will global warming be good for Canada?” was featured in the Toronto Star, Feb 1, 2007. James said the visual essay was prompted by her conversation with a “rogue economist” at a cocktail party. Steven Levitt told James not to worry about global warming because more of Canada will be inhabited if the weather is warmer. “I’m trying to reflect the concern … but also look at the selfishness we all have,” James said. Further activism quickly followed including selling the family car to reduce carbon emissions. James created a visual essay, “My SUV and Me Say Goodbye”, which was published in The Ottawa Citizen, on Earth Day, Apr 22, 2007. 

James’ efforts to ‘go green’ resulted in a bureaucratic battle with City Hall when she decided to build a green driveway. The Toronto Star reported that the “Eco-friendly driveway is rejected by the city” in May 2007. Treehugger wrote a cautionary story, Don’t Rip Up Your Driveway in North York, on May 8, 2007. James created an online visual essay Paradise Unpaved about the struggle to get a permit, and the building of the permeable green driveway. 

In the fall, the Toronto Star reported that the “Driveway dispute has green ending”. The next year the National Post wrote “Kicking a keen sense of green to the curb: One woman’s tale of liberation from asphalt”. 

Five of James’ visual essays on personal activism were published as a book, Bothered By My Green Conscience, by New Society Publishers in 2009. An in-depth article appeared in Green Living Magazine, Fall 2009,  “There’s Something About Franke”. In July 17, 2009, the Toronto Star wrote, “Green conscience inspires change”. Notably her 2008 essay Dear Prime Minister was not included in her 2009 book. 

Constructing James’s “Green driveway” in  2007


Climate Change Art and Free Expression: Blacklisting

In 2011, James was invited by a Croatia-based group, Nektarina Non Profit, to have a solo art show to inspire personal activism on climate change. The show agreement was to have James’ prints tour twenty cities in Europe. However the exhibition was suddenly canceled after Canadian bureaucrats told Nektarina that James spoke against the Canadian government. The Star broke the news, “Artist sees red over government ‘blacklisting’, on July 28, 2011. Postmedia News followed with “Gov’t official scuttled Euro tour, artist claims” Aug 2, 2011.

James filed for Access to Information (ATIP) documents, and brought her blacklisted art to the streets of Ottawa just steps from Parliament Hill. One poster asked the Prime Minister to “Please stop blacklisting our environmental messengers”. Two days before the show opened, James received the ATIP documents and so did Postmedia’s journalist, Amy Chung. Chung wrote, “Government officials killed funding for Canadian artist: documents: newly released documents obtained under access-to-information legislation show that Department of Foreign Affairs officials did initially earmark funding for James’ show, only to withdraw their support days later, citing, among their reasons, that it “would run counter to Canada’s interest.”

Elizabeth May, MP, and the leader of the Green Party voiced her support: “Franke James’ commitment to art, free expression and political commentary put her in the cross-hairs of the Harper Government. Come and see what the government didn’t want the world to see.” Producer Max Valois and Quebec film students interviewed James for their documentary on censorship of the arts, La limite de l’art

Later that month James was interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC Radio’s The Current: “The Intersection of Government, Art and Politics: Franke James” along with the Conservative political activist, Tom Flanagan. Ms. Tremonti said, “Franke James creates irreverent even whimsical art with a message about the environment, oil sands and climate change but when a federal bureaucrat accused her of creating a Fantasy, she filed an Access to Information request and discovered an email trail indicating officials at the Foreign Affairs Dept don’t seem to like her art and pulled funding because her work isn’t consistent with government interests. She says that opinion ended plans for a European art tour.” 

On Dec 16, 2011, Andy Revkin, New York Times Dot Earth: Canada’s Approach to Inconvenient Art: “Franke James is a Canadian artist with deep concerns about her country’s outsize contribution to resource waste and the building accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere…”

On Dec. 18, 2011, the Toronto Star featured Franke James as one of “three women who fought back against the Conservatives. “The artist and environmental activist has shown no shortage of political acumen in her bid to fight back against a Conservative government she says has bullied her.”

Franke James during a media interview in Ottawa in November 2011.


Political Art and Activism Against Pipelines

In NY Times Green Blog, Activist Artist vs Pipeline “Titled ‘What is Harper Afraid Of?’ Toronto-based artist and environmental activist Franke James poses a series of questions regarding the proposed pipeline’s risks to the environment, as well as local residents and aboriginal communities.” On the same day, Fort McMurray Today wrote: Anti-Gateway comic gathering steam: “A comic strip urging the Canadian government to halt development of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline has gained praise from thousands of online followers, inspiring nearly 6,800 viewers to sign and send a letter—located at the bottom of the comic strip —protesting Canada’s current environmental oversight laws to their respective Members of Parliament.” 

In 2013, James published, Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship”. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg wrote: Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government’s attempt to silence her: “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.”

To raise awareness of the government’s threat to freedom of expression, James mounted an outdoor campaign. Her poster, “Do Not Talk about Climate Change” showed the Parliament Buildings dropped into the Alberta tar sands and a quote from an internal government email that said, “The artist’s work dealt mostly with climate change, and was advocating a message that was contrary to the government’s policies on the subject.” Over one hundred and forty-two Indiegogo funders from Canada, the U.S. and Europe contributed to put the “Do Not Talk about Climate Change” posters on ad pillars in Ottawa, Calgary, and Halifax. The College of Sustainability at Dalhousie University contributed to the crowdfunding and invited James to speak at their Environment, Sustainability and Society Lectures. James’ talk, “Banned on the Hill: Speaking up for the climate and against censorship” was given on September 12, 2013.

In the fall of 2013, James took her poster campaign to Washington D.C. with support from NDRC and Sierra Club. The objective was to inform American policy makers about the problems with the Canadian Oil Sands and oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. James said, “Canadians’ right to free expression is being quietly eroded by a pro-oil government insistent on promoting tar sands and silencing anyone who might interfere with those plans. Rather than the friendly neighbor to the north, Canada has become the dirty old man.” 

Six of James’ anti-Keystone XL pipeline posters were up at bus stops in Washington for two-months. One poster showed the Canadian Parliament Buildings dropped into the tar sands with the words, “Do Not Talk about Climate Change. It is Against Canada’s Policy.” Another used text from The Guardian that says, “Canada Is The Dirty Old Man” and features a Stephen Harper caricature wearing a trench coat and revealing his tar sands oil barrel undergarments. Another poster showed an eagle drenched in black oil on top of the U.S. Capitol in front of a red and white striped background. Words on the poster read, “No Keystone XL.” In an email to The Hill, James said,“Ironically, being told not to talk about climate change by Canada’s (Harper) government was the inspiration for my “Oh No Canada!” show in D.C. We need to talk about climate change, not look the other way and pretend it’s not happening.”

“Do Not Talk About Climate Change” poster in Washington DC


Free Expression and Access To Information

Ian MacLeod, for the The Ottawa Citizen, wrote: “Using Access to Information law, James waged a four-year campaign that recovered more than 2,000 internal federal emails and other records related to the decision to revoke her funding. They revealed that more than two dozen senior officials and diplomats in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had monitored information about the artist because of her criticism of the oil and gas industry’s environmental performance.”

Anne Watson, Vancouver Observer, wrote “Franke James won’t be kept down. And the Harper government has tried pretty hard to do it. Her latest posters, “Six Easy Ways to Crush Free Expression” and “Don’t Think About Climate Change” are more examples of a feisty and fun-loving nature that’s unafraid to go toe-to-toe with Big Brother government tactics.” 

 “Six Easy Ways to Crush Free Expression” Exhibition for the BCCLA in 2016


Coltura and Gasoline-Free America

James’s 2018 song and music video, Gasoline, Gasoline (The World’s Aflame) was produced with Coltura, a US Non-profit focused on promoting a gasoline-free America. The song about breaking up with gasoline was composed by James, her husband, Billiam James, and Vancouver hip-hop singer Missy D. The music video features cameos by Bill McKibben, founder of and former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm.


Disability Activism and Human Rights: 2013-present

James launched a human rights campaign in 2014 as a result of her sister’s traumatic experience in 2013. That year, Teresa Pocock (Teresa Heartchild), who has Down syndrome, was put into a nursing home without her consent. Teresa was placed there because healthcare workers said she was incapable of deciding where to live. James disagreed with their assessment of her sister’s autonomy and abilities. She felt it was wrong as Teresa had no need for 24/7 nursing home care. James and her husband Billiam James helped Teresa get officially discharged after four days, and Teresa came to live with James and Billiam. 

The aim of the human rights campaign was to get Teresa an apology from the Ontario government who had authorized the placement. Teresa’s petition launched on March 21, 2014, World Down Syndrome Day. Over twenty-five thousand people signed the petition, and twenty-four hundred left comments. 

In 2016, BC Civil Liberties sent a letter, signed by a half dozen advocacy organizations, saying that Teresa’s forced admission to an Ontario nursing home violated her human rights. Media attention shone a spotlight on it as a widespread systemic problem. In 2016, the Ontario Minister of Health, Dr Eric Hoskins apologized to Teresa in a televised statement for the inappropriate placement. Teresa later received a personal written apology from the Minister. In 2023, Teresa will celebrate 10 years of living with James. She is now an award-winning artist, author, and self-activist in the community.

Franke James with her sister Teresa Heartchild, 2018




  • Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship (2013). Genre: Literary graphic non-fiction, 370 pages. Publisher: The James Gang. ISBN-13: 978-0991696109
  • Bothered By My Green Conscience (2009). Author and Visual Artist. Genre: Literary graphic non-fiction, 152 pages Publisher: New Society Publishers. ISBN-13: 978-0865716469
  • Dear Office-Politics: The game everyone plays (2009). Book and Game: Author and Visual Artist.Genre: Literary graphic non-fiction and game book, 138 pages, Publisher: Nerdheaven Ltd. ISBN-13: 978-1439230541

Visual Essays

  • “Games Bureaucats Play,” (2015) published  Access to Information and Social Justice: Critical Research Strategies for Journalists, Scholars, and Activists, (2015) Editors: Jamie Brownlee and Kevin Walby. Publisher: ARP Books (Arbeiter Ring Publishing) ISBN-13: 978-1894037679
  • What can ‘anybody’ tell Obama about Keystone XL?”(2014) published by
  • What is Harper Afraid Of” (2012) published by DeSmogBlog, Narwhal, 
  • Who cares about the forest?” (2011), published by
  • No One Will Know, Except You” (2010) published by Gopher Illustrated Magazine
  • My SUV and Me Say Goodbye”(2007) published in Ottawa Citizen
  • “A Green Winter”, published in Perspectives on Contemporary Issues, Readings Across the Disciplines, (2007) by Katherine Anne Ackley (Author), G. Kim Blank (Author), Stephen Eaton Hume. ISBN-13: 978-1413033977

Awards and Recognition

In 2014, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) gave its Excellence in the Arts award to James for her creative work and public advocacy on free expression. In 2015, PEN Canada presented the Ken Filkow Prize to James as recognition of her work using Access to Information Laws to expose the Canadian government’s efforts to suppress free expression of those who opposed the oil sand production. William Kowalski, chair of PEN Canada’s Canadian Issues Committee, said “James’ struggle shows what lengths the government will go to in order to suppress dissent on key policy issues”



Occupation: Artist, Author, Activist

Education: Master’s of Fine Art

Alma mater: University of Victoria, Mount Allison University

Genre: Activist Art, Visual Essays, Memoirs/True Stories, Public Art

Subject: Climate Change, Free Expression, Disability Justice, Human Rights

Notable Work: Banned on the Hill, Bothered by My Green Conscience, Dear Office Politics

Notable Awards: PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize, BCCLA Liberty Award Excellence in the Arts


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