The intersection of Govt, Art and Politics: Franke James interviewed on “The Current” by Anna Maria Tremonti

by Franke James

Free speech, Canadian Government interference in my 20-city European art show, Access to Information documents, and more… were discussed in my lively interview with host Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC’s The Current on November 16, 2011.

Franke James

CBC The Current: “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.”

For The Current interview, I was joined by Toby Heaps, Editor-in-Chief of Corporate Knights Magazine. Toby also spoke at my Blacklisting Party in September so he was up-to-speed on all the developments.  Toby commented, “It seems like our government’s idea of free speech is that they are all for it… so long as you agree with what they say…”

Curiously the Harper Government declined to be interviewed so two internal government emails from Sylvie Gauvin and Jeremy Wallace, were read aloud — complete with bleep-bleep-bleep for the redacted sections. To fill in for the government, CBC interviewed the colourful Conservative political activist Tom Flanagan to give his opinion on my blacklisting.

Mr. Flanagan quoted the Book of Matthew, as proof that Stephen Harper cannot be all-knowing — but funnily enough I never thought the Prime Minister knew about this interference by Canadian officials!

In response to questions, Mr. Flanagan was reluctant to point a guilty finger at the government. He apparently missed the internal government emails which prove that the Government was not telling the truth in their public statements made last July. The ATIP documents show they did approve funding, and then withdrew it — something which they denied in the media.

Mr. Flanagan also missed the statements from the Director of Nektarina Non Profit, Sandra Antonovic, who said she felt intimidated and bullied by the Canadian Government. (See Nektarina’s official statement.)

“In the past few months we have encountered many difficulties in organizing the exhibitions, usually connected to interventions of the Canadian Government… at times we felt patronized and even intimidated”.

And he must have missed this statement in the Toronto Star which shows how the Canadian Embassy interfered in my art show. The Canadian Embassy official warned Sandra not to show my artwork saying, “Don’t you know this lady speaks against the Canadian government?” (See Sandra Antonovic’s statement in the Toronto Star.)

In closing, Anna Maria Tremonti asked Mr. Flanagan whether the government handled this properly and then suggested, “Do you think they might be thinking about that twice now?”

I think so! If you want to have a say call the CBC talkback line [(877) 287-7366] or leave a comment below.

Toby Heaps gets the last word:

“It’s not about dirty oil or ethical oil, we just have to have an honest debate.”

Hear the podcast.


ATIP highlights: Canada’s Climate Change office secretly killed approval for Franke James’ European art tour: govt documents reveal
Backgrounder and Timeline:
Blacklisting: Index of News and Posts
Visual essay: Banned on the Hill (and in Europe!)
Ottawa Artshow: Victory! Banned on the Hill Opening in Ottawa


34 Responses: 6 Comments and 28 Tweets

  • Flanagan came off sounding smug and ill informed, the sort of head patting I’ve grown accustomed to from Conservative pundits. Fortunately, you were clear and eloquent. I’m pleased CBC chose to interview you. This kind of censoring of our artists is something we criticize in other countries. It’s important for us all to speak up against it in Canada.

    Thanks for your commitment, creative and courage, Franke.

  • Verda Petry says:

    Why on earth should art conform to “Government interests”? The Harper gang must be feeling very insecure to react as they have.

  • Ann Douglas says:

    During the interview, Flanagan seemed to be very uncomfortable with the idea that artists might be political. Artists have always been political — even under highly repressive regimes. The fact that Flanagan (one-time mentor to Harper) holds this view speaks volumes.

    For background on Harper and Flanagan’s relationship, see The Harper Record.

  • Nicole B. says:

    I just heard the interview tonight on CBC and was really angry that something like this is happening on our own soil. While I wish I could say “I can’t believe the Harper government did that” the sad truth is, it doesn’t shock me. What does surprise (or depress) me is that we have to live with the majority Harper government for 3 or so more years. Keep up the provocative art Franke, you’re a true inspiration!

  • Tim Belec says:

    Good interview Franke. Tom Flanagan was a poor replacement for someone from the Government to defend this issue. As a political scientist, Flanagan has long lost any objectivity in his work or statements. As one of the major architects of the new Conservative Party and mentor to Harper, he is probably also responsible for a lot of the attack strategy used to undermine other political parties in this country. Flanagan probably is best suited to the crackpot fringe like those who support the American Tea Party movement. Bottom line is he has long lost any credibility to comment on anything.

  • […] 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 […]

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