News | Montreal politician petitions against monarch’s portrait

In response to the removal of a Canadian painting from the Building of Foreign Affairs, Joanne Corbeil, candidate for Westmount-Ville-Marie NDP, mailed a petition to Governor General David Johnston last Tuesday.

The Pellan Petition, submitted to the Office of the Governor General, protests the removal of paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan from the lobby of the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa.

The order to remove the paintings came from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird last June, when they were replaced with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Although the petition managed to gather over 200 signatures, including those of some prominent members of Parliament – such as Thomas Mulcair – Corbeil has little hope that it will succeed.

“If something actually happened – well, that would be a miracle,” Corbeil said.

“The petition really aims at showing them that we do not all agree. I’m sure they’re aware of that, but I thought it was important that it was in writing, that people are not necessarily agreeing with this,” she said.

“So many people say, ‘Well, we want to keep our history alive.’ I have nothing against that,” she added.

“The history is part of our past, and we should not deny it. But at the same time, I believe we should look toward the future also. Modern Canada, for most Canadians, is not the Queen. She’s not part of our laws, she’s not part of our Parliament. She does not decide things with us or for us. She’s just a figure.”

The replacement of the Pellan paintings is one of a number of recent moves by the Harper administration to increase the presence of the monarchy in Canadian government.

In early September 2011, all Canadian embassies and missions abroad were ordered to have a portrait of the Queen on prominent display by September 15, 2011. The demand came shortly after the restoration of the word “Royal” to the names of the Canadian Air Force and Navy in August.

According to Joseph Lavoie, press secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the decision to swap the pictures was spurred by the approach of the Queen’s diamond jubilee, the sixty-year anniversary of her coronation.

“The Sovereign’s Wall is a tribute that befits our head of state, Queen Elizabeth II,” wrote Lavoie in an email to The Daily. “It was also established as a recognition of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Pearson Building on July 1.”

However, Gilles Lapointe, director of the Art History Undergraduate Program at Université de Québec à Montréal, expressed concerns that the removal of the Pellan paintings compromises an important part of Canadian culture.

“I can absolutely not agree with it,” Lapointe said. “We don’t have that many great painters in Canada. Pellan is one of them for sure. It’s like we are trying to erase a part of our cultural history… Putting him in a closet is not doing Canada and Quebec a favour.”

“We know that the Harper government still sees Canada as a dominion. They still see Canada as bowing to the Queen. We’re supposed to be in a post-colonial era, but Harper is bringing us back into a colonial era. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he added.