In 2011, Canadian artist Franke James set out on a solo European art exhibit spanning 20 countries. But what happened instead, prompted an Amnesty International campaigner in Croatia to declare it a "sad day for Canadian democracy."
Franke James's art show was cancelled after the NGO organizing the event, Nektarina, was told they would not receive the support they expected from Canadian embassies. The reasoning was that Franke "speaks against the Canadian Government." Nektarina's representative Sandra Antonovic rightly pointed out at the time that she, "would expect that from the Putin government or a country like Kazakhstan, but I didn't expect that from Canadians."
The story got even worse (for our democracy), when Franke James confirmed her suspicions about government interference through a series of government documents she received under the Access to Information and Privacy Act. The documents showed just how much effort had gone into trying to to shut Franke up. One subject line in an email between Canadian embassy staff bluntly asked: "Franke James is Your Fault?"
The story is pretty unbelievable. Historically, art has played a strong role in dissent against the powers-that-be, and of all the places in the world, Canada would be one of the last you would expect such government censorship to happen.
Flash forward to today and Franke James is doing what every Canadian is taught from an early age: to stand up and fight for what you believe is right. Franke has turned her art, her story and her activism into a visually stunning book, Banned on the Hill: a True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship, and on Monday her book got international attention with a feature in UK's Guardian media outlet.
The attention is well deserved. Her art is very cool, and no doubt the success of her new book will rekindle the emotions that her state-censored European exhibit elicited from the ruling Conservative Party. Our Prime MInister, in Franke's eyes, might look a little something like this:
A little lesson for Prime Minister Harper and the reigning Conservatives might be to tolerate a little criticism from time-to-time. Sometimes the people are right and even if you think they aren't, you're only going to make it worse for yourself by trying to shut them up.
After all, this is Canada, and while we might act polite with our "pleases" and "thank you's," we do not like to be interrupted or, god forbid, shushed.
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