The Ambassador, the Octopus… And Foreign Affairs
by Franke James
The Ambassador, the Octopus and Foreign Affairs — how DO they all relate? Well, let me start by sharing with you one of the new Access-to-Information (ATIP) documents released to me in mid-December regarding my blacklisting by the Harper Government.
Scan this internal Foreign Affairs Hot Issues newsletter (dated July 28/11) and see if anything jumps out at you…
Franke James in Foreign Affairs?! It was a shocker — and breathtaking — to see my name in a newsletter with such pressing global issues. But being mentioned in DFAIT’s Hot Issues is one visible indicator that my situation was being watched by Senior government officials around the world and in Canada. Specifically they were responding to news coverage in July, in The Toronto Star, La Presse, The Tyee, and others.
The newly released ATIP documents reveal that DFAIT hoped the story would “wind itself down”. Read the July 29/11 email below from spokesperson Caitlin Workman to André-Marc Lanteigne (who it turns out is the Director General of Communications at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada). Lanteigne’s advice was to be careful not to “poke it”.
But I wasn’t letting the news rest. Thanks to my crowdfunded Banned on the Hill artshow in November, and the release of ATIP documents on October 31, two days before the show opened (what luck!), many more articles were written, including “Government officials killed funding for Canadian artist” by Amy Chung, which ran in the Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, and the Vancouver Sun.
My artshow in Ottawa led to an interview with Anna Maria Tremonti on the CBC’s The Current on November 16/11. Which led to more articles in December, including Andrew Revkin’s article in the New York Times, and Tim Harper’s column in the Toronto Star.
What fascinates the media (and me) is finding proof that senior government interference caused support for my 20-city artshow in Europe to be withdrawn — and thus my work to be effectively censored. That’s the nub of it.
On November 24/11, PEN Canada and the Writers’ Union of Canada leant their support to me. In a press release they expressed their concern over the Government’s interference, “The government of Canada has no right to determine what is an acceptable opinion for an individual citizen, on climate change or any matter of public interest,” said Charlie Foran, President of PEN Canada, “To do so is clearly not in the spirit of the Charter and the long history of freedom of expression in Canada.”
Which brings me to The Ambassador…
The new ATIP documents I received in mid-December show that PEN and the Writers’ Union’s concerns were well-placed. Read the email below on behalf of Scott Heatherington, Canada’s Ambassador to the Baltic States, where he says, “I have to say I did not feel comfortable supporting this particular initiative XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Please see Franke James site Fat [Cat] Canada’s Giant Litter Box.”
By Mr. Heatherington sharing his disapproval of my visual essays, and specifically Fat Cat Canada, he is doing two things:
- Influencing his Canadian Embassy colleagues not to support my 20-city exhibition.
- Not allowing dissenting opinions to be aired, thus infringing on my charter right to freedom of expression.
Coincidentally, the Ambassador’s email was written one day after the corporate sponsor unexpectedly withdrew their support. My show was cancelled a few weeks later, in early August. The Croatian show producer, Nektarina Non Profit, could not stand being in the international crossfires of Canadian politics.
Curiously, part of the Ambassador’s email has been redacted for Section 15(1), reasons of international security and defence. Thankfully, MP Elizabeth May, the Leader of the Green Party of Canada, submitted a formal order question to Parliament on December 12th (one day before the Ambassador’s email was released).
Elizabeth May asked: “With regard to the Right to Freedom of Speech enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on what legal basis did DFAIT ground its decision to withdraw support and revoke Ms. James’ allotted funding?” See Question #380
The Conservatives have 45 days to respond — so we should get their written response before January 27th. I wonder what they’ll say? And if it will stand up to media scrutiny?
Which brings me now to the Octopus…
I’ll share with the OCTOPI artists my “political art”, starting with my election polling game Whack the PM (2004/2006/2008), and my visual essays. I’ll also walk them through the steps I took to file my ATIP requests. And how important it is to be persistent, because the government takes a very long time, and that is just part of the game. But once you get the records, they can give you a fascinating glimpse into how the government works…
And it will all be great fodder for my new book…
“The Ambassador, the Octopus… And Foreign Affairs” copyright 2012 Franke James. Thanks to Richard Littlemore for the suggested working title, “Pride and Paranoia”. Writing, photographs and illustrations by Franke James except as noted below:
Photo of H.E. Scott Heatherington, Canadian Ambassador to Latvia by Edmunds Brencis; photo copyright Government of Canada;
Link to pdf of Ambassador Heatherington’s email