Why catching art criminals in Canada is a challenge: The Norval Morrisseau fraud case shines a light on the issue

Norval Morrisseau fraud case highlights why it's so hard to catch art criminals in Canada

Art-related fraud is a serious issue that affects more people than we might think. High-end art fraud is not just about ‘suave criminals in black turtlenecks’ orchestrating a heist in a movie-like scenario. Instead, organized crime groups with connections to other illegal activities are behind much of the art-related crime in Canada and around the world.

A recent court case in Thunder Bay, Ont. unveiled the largest art fraud ring in Canadian history. The leader of the Norval Morrisseau fraud ring, Gary Lamont, had an extensive criminal record but was recently sentenced to five years of imprisonment. According to the agreed statement of facts, Lamont oversaw the production and distribution of hundreds of forged artworks, falsely attributing them to Morrisseau, an Anishinaabe artist who passed away in 2007.

Christopher Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International, rightly points out, “Art crime is not just a rich man’s problem — it’s a major problem.” In fact, art crime amounts to an estimated $6 billion to $8 billion each year, highlighting the seriousness of this issue, which often goes unnoticed or underrated.

Complications in Investigating Art Crime

The complexity of art-related fraud lies in its difficulty to investigate. The intricacies of art history and the underground networks involved in this illegal trade make it nearly impossible for the average person to engage in an investigation. As Thunder Bay Police Services Det. Sgt. Jason Rybak pointed out, even the police had to consult the FBI for guidance in handling the Morrisseau case.

Rybak also highlighted that art-related fraud is not given the priority it deserves in terms of resources, especially in places plagued with other serious crimes.

Lack of Dedicated Resources

Police forces in Canada seem to lack art-crime specific investigative resources. The Sûreté du Québec/RCMP Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team, which used to work on art fraud cases, no longer functions in the same capacity. This underlines the need for a dedicated art crime team that can efficiently handle art-related fraud across the country.

The Impact of Art Crime

Art crimes don’t just harm buyers and collectors; they also have a significant impact on the artists’ legacies. The Morrisseau fraud ring has not only exploited the artist’s work but has also impacted art dealers who dedicate their time and resources to promoting Indigenous artwork. Moreover, fraudulent activities devalue the legitimacy of other First Nations artists and their art in the market. Victims express fear and distrust, reflecting how the art fraud has left a deep impact on their perception and appreciation of Indigenous art.

A Wake-Up Call for Authorities

Despite the complex nature of art crime, the case of the Morrisseau fraud ring serves as a prime example of the need for a more systematic and collaborative approach to tackle art-related fraud. Rather than expecting individual victims to pursue cases, a national art crime unit would streamline the process and effectively address this pressing issue.

It’s high time for law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies to acknowledge the severity of art-related fraud, realize its wider impact on society, and take concrete steps to prevent and combat this issue. Our collective culture and heritage, represented through art, demand protection from exploitation and misrepresentation. Indifference toward art crime is a disservice to artists, collectors, and the art industry as a whole. It’s time to prioritize the fight against art-related fraud for the preservation and promotion of a vibrant art community.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here