You may find that you have, or are developing, an interest in art and culture, both local and foreign. In our journeys, we sometimes find ourselves accumulating art and artifacts which emotionally affect us, or that remind us of places we’ve visited, or that we simply find aesthetically pleasing. Be aware that buying and selling cultural property and art is no longer as simple or as secure as a hand shake and an assumption of good faith.
Cultural property law is a niche area of law, and one that is highly regulated. For this reason, it is important to work with an experienced cultural property lawyer. Yeti Law is one of very few firms practicing in this area and as a result, our Legal Sherpas® have amassed a great deal of knowledge and expertise. You’ll find that at Yeti Law, we share your passion for art and culture, and we don’t want to see anyone prevented from pursuing what they love for fear of complex regulations or impenetrable jargon. Our goal is to clarify, simplify, and allow our clients to focus on what matters most: the art.
Understanding the Legal Issues Surround Ownership of Art
It’s important to have the ability to trace ownership of art. Without the ability to track or trace the provenance of a work of art, it becomes very difficult to determine if there are any issues that come attached to the art or artefact. Illegally obtained items now face legacy issues that must be addressed if they are to change hands. These can be difficult to resolve in litigation due to issues of proof when documentation is lacking.
Understandably, art and other cultural property tends to have inherent value. This value can come from age, cultural importance, historical importance, rarity. Some safeguards have been put into place to protect cultural property. Safeguards such as the 1954 Hague Convention, the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and Canada’s Cultural Property Import and Export Act. As a signatory of both the Hague and UNESCO conventions, Canada takes its responsibilities in the care and protection of cultural properties very seriously.
Importing Cultural Property
The Cultural Property Import and Export Act specifies that the import of certain items into Canada may be illegal if those items are banned for export by their country of origin. Items such as antiques, fossils, or ivory goods may be illegal to import, as are items that violate the UNESCO Conventions, such as items that have been stolen or looted in war or conflict.
Cultural property without the proper documentation can be significantly delayed, or detained. The import of cultural property that has been illegally exported from a foreign country can even bring criminal charges.
Exporting Cultural Property
In Canada, a cultural property export permit is required to export any controlled cultural property. Criminal charges may be applied for attempts to export cultural property without a valid permit.
Without specific expertise in this area that comes from years of dealing with cultural property, it can be difficult to determine if the art or artefacts you wish to export qualify as cultural property. Works may be deemed cultural property and may fall subject to export control if they are more than 50 years old, or if their creator is deceased. These items may be objects removed from the soil or water, cultural objects (such as aboriginal artefacts), military objects, works of fine art, or any of a number of other items outlined in the Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List.