Question Period: Copyright Act Reform

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: Senator Gold, last Friday, eight arrests were made in the largest art fraud in Canada. About 1,000 fake pieces of art were seized, and individuals in three rings were charged with faking the work of famous Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau. It is thought between 4,500 and 6,000 of these fakes exist. Many were sold for tens of thousands of dollars to unsuspecting collectors. It has been widely known for years that fakes of Morrisseau’s work were in the system. The police took 2.5 years investigating these arrests, and work leading to that investigation went on for more than 10 years.

I have brought up my concerns about the depth and extent of art fraud in this chamber before and I have noted some other fraudulent activities that negatively impact Canadian artists, especially Indigenous artists.

When will the government tighten the Copyright Act and develop other legislation to protect Canada’s visual artists?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator. I don’t have specific information about the Copyright Act dimension of your question, but I will say that the government strongly condemns frauds and scams, both in the art world and in every context where they are perpetrated. Indeed, the government and law enforcement continually work to detect, disrupt and prosecute crimes, because that’s what these things are.

As we know, through Budget 2022, the government will establish the Canada financial crimes agency dedicated to investigating complex cases of a wide range of offences. It will work with law enforcement to ensure that criminals are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Senator Bovey: Thank you for that, Senator Gold. There have been some very constructive suggestions as to how activity might be curtailed, from instituting an electronic tag system on works while still in artists’ studios, to creating a registry confirming authentication, which could be with the piece as it moves from collection to collection, to developing a fund to assist artists in fighting these breaches of copyright, to better training of CBSA officials. These measures would not only protect artists from loss of their income and legacies but also assist unsuspecting collectors.

Will the government consider these and other proposals that may come forward in light of these frauds?

Senator Gold: Thank you for those suggestions, senator. The government is always open to consider ways in which to improve its ability to disrupt. It’s far better to prevent than to have to cure, if I can use a health analogy.

I would be pleased to arrange meetings with you so that your recommendations can be put into the proper hands. Please contact me, and we will do that.

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