Friday, August 26, 2011

Blacklisting artists is Franke-ly un-Canadian

When a great Canadian ascends the world stage, our nation is supportive. Actor, author, athlete, artist, or academic, we take vicarious pride in world recognition of our home-grown talent, like Christopher Plummer, Margaret Atwood, Wayne Gretzky, Emily Carr or Marshall McLuhan. We celebrate our Nobel laureates, Olympic gold medalists, platinum-selling recording artists, and Oscar-winning directors.

But of late have been exceptions of a disturbingly political nature. When the International Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, our government failed to recognize Canada’s prominent IPCC contributors; luckily the Green Party stepped up, spearheading a congratulatory ceremony on Parliament Hill (which Harper’s cabinet boycotted). Author and academic Michael Ignatieff was not lauded, but instead mocked in political attack ads, for his years as a respected Cambridge and Harvard professor. And now a Canadian artist is censored and blacklisted simply for challenging our government (through her art) to be more active on the climate file.

Through visual essays, Franke James blends science and art with storytelling, using their power not to preach but to engage viewers’ minds and hearts. She explores and illustrates topics like disaster preparedness, forest preservation, the health and environmental impacts of salon hair-dyeing, and of course, climate change. Her work is colourful, entertaining, accessible and informative. Not only that, it’s in demand internationally.

Canadians working abroad count on consular support. Whether a businessperson, artist, or whatever, our national brand grows when other countries appreciate us. Sometimes this involves government grants or lobbying, other times just the rubber stamp of approval from an embassy and some help reaching local media. The bar is set by quality, not political loyalty.

Or at least, that’s how it was. Under the Harper regime, things have changed. For having the audacity to challenge some Harper policies (or lack thereof), James has been blacklisted overseas. Not only was a promised $5000 grant pulled, she is denied even the basic support Canadian efforts abroad depend upon, and receive as a matter of course.

What’s worse, the foreign service has actively campaigned against her! A planned European tour was kiboshed after they “warned” her European corporate backer to pull sponsorship or face damage to their company. Without even token consular approval, private backing is difficult to secure; in the face of such threats, impossible.

For exercising her democratic rights of political expression and free speech, for questioning Harper’s tar sands promotion, she is branded as “speaking against the Canadian government.” James is neither an insurgent nor a rebel inciting violence – she is merely a thought-provoking artist.

If you’d like to learn more, or see what our government doesn’t want seen, visit and decide for yourself if your Canada includes the blacklisting of artists.

Originally published as my Root Issues colum in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Does your Canada include blacklisting artists?" .

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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