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Harper government targeted artist for her green conscience, internal documents reveal

Franke James,
Franke James, Croatia, Department of Foreign Affairs
Independent artist and environmental advocate Franke James has obtained over 1,500 pages of internal government documents revealing extensive discussion about her art and its effect on the Harper government's agenda.

Franke James, a Canadian artist and environmental advocate blacklisted by the Harper government, has obtained internal documents indicating Canadian officials worked behind the scenes to discredit her work.

An internal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) media monitoring report from July 2011 lists James as "an inconvenient artist" ("une artiste qui dérange"), the headline of an article in La Presse. The document was part of the 1,500 pages of internal documents James obtained through Access to Information requests since August 2011. 

"To be on the list of hot foreign issues, it was just shocking," James said in a telephone interview. "I'm right up there with Arctic sovereignty and Afghanistan."

Source: The Government of Canada.

"Funding was never withdrawn, nor was it guaranteed. Ultimately, Canadians missions did not fund this artist's European tour," Department spokesperson Jean-Bruno Villeneuve wrote in an email in response to James' claims and the documents.

Villeneuve did not comment on James' allegation that the government attempted to discredit her work based on a political agenda.

"It's infuriating that the government keeps using this line," James said in a telephone interview. Postmedia News' Amy Chung obtained access to information documents that indicated the government initially approved the funding internally, but withdrew abruptly

How James got on the government blacklist

James is the illustrator and author of 'visual essays' about environmental sustainability and environmental issues in Canada. Some essays were critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's rejection of a pollution tax and the Canadian government's inaction on climate change

The cover of Franke James' visual essay "Dear Mr. Prime Minister". Courtesy of

In spring 2011 James' work was slated for a year-long tour in 20 cities across Europe and the Middle East, from Copenhagen to Cairo. The tour was organized by Nektarina Non-Profit, an arts organization based in Croatia.

In April 2011, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) approved a $5,000 grant to help fund the tour. However, a month later a representative from the Canadian Embassy in Croatia directly contacted Nektarina's executive director Sandra Antonovic to deliver some bad news: funding for the tour was axed.

Nektarina publicly stated that the Canadian government did not stop with the funding cut — it also actively intervened to prevent James' European exhibition from going forward. Eventually the tour was cancelled because a major corporate sponsor withdrew $75,000 in support, allegedly after being contacted by the Canadian government.

In an interview with Tonda MacCharles of The Toronto Star, Antonovic said that her contacts in the Canadian Embassy in Croatia quoted a senior official saying things like: “Who was the idiot who approved an art show by that woman, Franke James?” and “Don’t you know this lady speaks against the Canadian government?"

Following the funding cut and the government's alleged interventions against her tour, James sent numerous access to information requests to the Canadian government for all correspondence and documents related to her name and her cancelled tour. Since sending the first requests out in August 2011, she has received over 1,500 pages of internal documents, many of them email correspondences between Canadian Trade Commissioners in Europe. The paper trail confirmed Nektarina's claim of 'bullying' from the Canadian government to prevent James' tour from going forward.

'Green conscience' versus the 'men and women working in forestry and oilsands'
In an email exchange between a senior trade commissioner in Berlin and a Canadian Embassy representative in Croatia, the commissioner Thomas Marr asks: "Franke James is your fault?" in the subject line. In the email, Marr wrote: "The Nektarina Non Profit is a Croatian organization? And you have connected them with Ms. James who has  a 'green conscience' and whose work sharply criticizes the men and women working in forestry and oilsands in our great country?"

Source: The Government of Canada. 

Another email sent by the Canadian Ambassador to the Baltic States to Canadian embassy staffers in European countries where James' show was slated to tour links to one of James' visual essays criticising Canada's record on climate change. "We do not support private campaigns," the email reads. The rest is redacted.

Source: The Government of Canada. 

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