Nine museums in front of the Court

Neuf musées devant la Cour

Photo: Guillaume Levasseur Duty
Nathalie Bondil, director of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, is the leader among his colleagues in Vancouver, Toronto and Fredericton.

It is rather rare for museums to canadians to speak with one voice. In the court of justice, on Thursday, nine of them, plus a library, appeared before the federal Court of appeal in order not to lose the ability to acquire, by way of gift, works of foreign artists. They ask this instance to annul a decision of the federal Court — the judgment Manson, delivered in June 2018 — that is undermining a system of tax deduction of forty years ago.

“It is extremely rare to discuss these topics, export license of national importance “, said Nathalie Bondil, one hour after the end of the hearings. The director of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (MBAM), which has acted as a leader among his colleagues in Vancouver, Toronto or Fredericton, refers to the gathering of” exceptional “.

“In canadian law, there is no other case where there are nine museums, coast to coast, who defend the common heritage. It will be case law “, she believes.

The judges were very much aware of the folder, very informed. I was surprised by the quality of the interventions.

— Nathalie Bondil

Proof of its historical character, the audience, which took a good part of the day on Thursday, took place before a packed room, according to Nathalie Bondil. “The judges were very much aware of the folder, very informed. I was surprised by the quality of the interventions. It proves that the cause has been taken seriously, ” she said, reassured.

The Court of appeals has taken under advisement the question. Several months may elapse before it makes its decision.

Iris canadian ?

The legal battle that lead to the museums between Heffel Gallery, and to an anonymous collector, wishing to sell abroad a painting by the French impressionist Gustave Caillebotte, blue Iris, jardin du Petit Gennevilliers (1892). It is a federal entity, the canadian Commission review of the export of cultural property, which allows, through a licence, such a practice.

As the permit has been denied, not once, but twice, sellers of Curd appealed to the federal Court, under the pretext that there had been an abuse in the interpretation of the criterion of” national importance “. In its decision of 12 June 2018, the judge Michael D. Manson gave them reason.

According to the dossier of 600 pages prepared by the lawyers of museums, ” to the federal Court, this criterion is only filled when the cultural property or its author have a direct link with Canada “. In other words, Iris blue… or Gustave Caillebotte do not meet the requirement.

The lawyers note that the judge Manson would have made abstraction of the link between the export permit with a program of tax deductions. The latter, an incentive to increase donations to canadian museums, is governed by the same Board and it only applies if it meets the same criteria. In the request of the museums, it would be necessary to take into account “the interrelationship” between the two measures. “There are two distinct mechanisms […] which aim to preserve in Canada, and for the benefit of the canadian public, of cultural property “, one reads in the documents of Sarrazin + Plourde lawyers.

Nathalie Bondil hope that the voice of museums has been understood. It is the survival of the model of the encyclopedic museum and universal. And if ever the Court of appeal does not give them reason ? “We will continue our work, we will go over the top,” says the director of the MMFA.