Sunday, 27 July 2014

An Iranian artist has just one day to save her artwork from being destroyed by Canadian customs

Iranian artist and Canadian permanent resident Sadaf Foroughi is fighting to get her artwork back from Canadian customs before it is destroyed

The design of Sadaf Foroughi's Shahre Farang, a traditional Iranian peep box. Picture courtesy of Sadaf Foroughi and CBC Radio.
by CBC Radio

Iranian artist and Canadian permanent resident, Sadaf Foroughi, has spent the last two years trying to build an authentic shahre farang, essentially a traditional Iranian peep box. It's part of a project funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. After Ms Foroughi went to Iran to help build the box, that's when things got complicated.

On her arrival back in Montreal, Canadian customs held the artwork. Officers claimed it contravenes Canada's trade sanctions with Iran. And now the piece is slated to be destroyed in a matter of days.

Shahre farangs are traditionally made of thin tin, are delicate objects and date back centuries. According to Ms Foroughi the peep box was used to show pictures to children in Iran and give people a glimpse around the world -- places average Iranians would likely never visit. Ms Foroughi's installation is a modern interpretation of the shahre farang where she shows videos instead of photographs.

Ms Foroughi tells guest host Helen Mann, she doesn't understand why her work violates Canada's so-called "Special Economic Measures Regulations for Iran," because she says her piece has no commercial value.

Ms Fourghi tells Helen she told the customs agent in Montreal, "I'm an artist and I had the grant of Canada Council for the Arts and they only support independent and personal projects." But according to Ms Foroughi, the official shouted at her.

"She said, 'for me you are an Iranian and I don't care if you are an artist or not. If you stay here until tomorrow, my answer will be the same.'"

Ms Foroughi's work is now being held in a cargo company's warehouse in Montreal, and Ms Foroughi is paying over a $100 dollars a day for the peep box's storage.

Ms Foroughi has spoken to the cargo handler. She has asked if the temperature of the room is good for keeping an artwork. She says to Helen, "they kindly told me they couldn't promise anything because it is very hot and these days with the rain it is very humid."  

Next week the cargo handler will return the artwork to Canadian customs where it could be destroyed.

"I just want them to know it is an innocent apparatus," Ms Foroughi tells Helen. "It is very sad to destroy it." 


Today we spoke to a Canada Council for the Arts spokesperson. Tara Lapointe tells guest host Helen Mann she is concerned about the situation and surprised the peep box may be destroyed.

She says the Council has sent a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs, "We've provided a letter attesting to the fact the work is funded by the council."

The Canada Border Services Agency declined our request for an interview, but they did send us this statement regarding Sadaf Foroughi's artwork. It reads in part:

"Ms. Foroughi presented herself at our offices at Montréal-Trudeau Airport on July 7, 2014. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) explained that her goods were detained as the CBSA is enforcing a Department of Foreign Affairs, Development and Trade (DFADT) directive. Ms. Foroughi was counselled by the CBSA to contact DFADT to determine her options. Ms Foroughi has not contacted the CBSA since July 7.

Per Canadian legislation, Ms. Foroughi's work is considered as commercial goods for the following reason : the goods are imported into Canada for professional purposes. This work of art is also considered as commercial goods because it is destined for institutional or professional use. A grant (governmental or private) does not change the commercial status of a work of art."

After 40 days of detention, the goods are handed over to the CBSA. The CBSA has the discretion to keep the goods if the issuance of a permit is pending. The 40-day detention period is calculated as of July 2, 2014.

We can tell you our officers' interactions with the client were centered on the nature and origins of her imported goods, not her own origins. Our officers were firm but they remained polite throughout the discussion."

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover declined our request for an interview. So did Foreign Affairs. But, they did send us this statement:

"Whether or not a specific item counts as an exemption to our sanctions is subject to legal interpretation. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development cannot provide such legal advice to members of the public.

If the art is stopped at the border due to sanctions imposed under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA), the importer can apply to the Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Permit Authorization Order for an exception.

Questions about the customs process should be addressed to the Canada Border Services Agency. The Department cannot speculate as to when any particular decision will be made.

Canada will not apologize for standing up for the Iranian people who deserve the freedom and prosperity that they have been denied for too long by this caustic regime.

We will continue to work with our allies and international partners and be forceful with Iran until it complies with its international human rights obligations. Canada will continue to hold the regime accountable."

Petition to minister to end confiscation of artwork

Via CBC Radio and

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