Crime and Cultural Property

Since it’s not sponsored by the regular legal conference outfits, a conference in Toronto next month may have flown under the radar for the Slaw community. The first Symposium on Criminality in the Art and Cultural Property World will be held at Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West, Toronto, on June 15-16, 2012. Next month, Toronto will be the centre of the art-legal world.

The conference is co-chaired by Bonnie Czegledi and Mr. Justice Patrick Healy, Court of Quebec, Criminal and Penal Division, Montréal, formerly Professor Healy from McGill, and the speakers are quite literally, the world’s experts: Lawrence M. Kaye and Howard N. Spiegler, from the Art Law Group at Herrick Feinstein LLP, New York; Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, an archaeologist who is now the Program Manager of the Art Theft Program, Federal Bureau of Investigation in DC; Monica S. Dugot, who heads up Restitution at Christie’s, New York; Clarence Epstein, Director of Special Projects and Cultural Affairs, Concordia University; responsible for Canada’s Max Stern Art Restitution Project, Montréal; Graham Ospreay, an expert in forensic documents and forgery; Kathryn Minard, of in Toronto; my old friend and colleague David S. Rose, author of DNA: A Practical Guide (Carswell), Neuberger Rose LLP, Toronto; and the Head of the Art Crime Unit, Netherlands Police Agency, The Netherlands;

Two years ago, Thomson West published a text by Toronto art lawyer, Bonnie Czegledi,entitled Crimes Against Art: International Art and Cultural Heritage Law. This conference stems from that work and her practice.

The jacket copy states:

Author Bonnie Czegledi reviews major art and antiquities crimes from the past century, including heists from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum, looting during World War II and the Iraqi-wars, forgeries committed by Han van Meegeren and the Greenhalgh family, and the underwater salvaging of the RMS Titanic. These and many other cases offer new insight into the motives of thieves, the legal and ethical challenges of recovery and restitution, and the devastating historical and cultural impact of art crime. Czegledi evaluates current international treaties and conventions designed to protect cultural property and offers suggestions to address and prevent art crime − from exercising collective due diligence in buying, selling, loaning, collecting and donating art to reforming legislation and increasing criminal prosecutions. Ultimately, Crimes Against Art is a call-to-action for a collective commitment to protect and preserve cultural property, our most precious non-renewable resource.

Interestingly, Thomson West explored the use of multimedia in promoting the book:

Interview with Bonnie Czegledi on the CBC`s THE CURRENT discussing the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property
Listen (runs 8:22)

Matt Galloway of CBC’s Metro Morning spoke with Bonnie Czegledi. Listen (runs 6:25)

CBC Radio interview with Bonnie Czegledi

We may think of art crime as no big deal but according to the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, Art crime represents the third highest grossing criminal enterprise worldwide, behind only drugs and arms trafficking. It brings in $2-6 billion per year, most of which goes to fund international organized crime syndicates. First stops for any researcher are Interpol’s site and the FBI unit dedicated to art theft. The RCMP didn’t have a dedicated unit until 2008, which built on the pioneering work of a single Montreal officer of the Sûreté du Québec, labeled by the tabloids as the Colombo of Art . Not surprisingly, given the wealth of cultural patrimony in Italy, the Carabinieri has devoted significant resources to the fight against art theft.

There are two excellent blogs, that of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and Derek Fincham‘s the Illicit Cultural Property blog.

Databases of stolen art are maintained by the FBI, the LAPD and at the Art Loss Register. Interpol’s database is blocked off from browsing, as is Scotland Yard’s. There are links to national sites at Saztv, Saz’s index, and minor sites listed at Museum Security.

This is an area of the law we haven’t focused on before, and there is more available worldwide than I would have thought. Most libraries will carry the journal once known as Art and the Law, which has morphed its title and focus to become the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts. It started off as a monthly publication of Volunteer Lawyers For the Arts, which had published a Newsletter which sought to “report and comment on organizational services and legal issues affecting the rights of artists and the conditions of creative and performing activity”. Columbia has a clinical programme devoted to art and the law.

An informative video on art law from a conference in Miami may whet your appetite, and Herrick’s newsletters on art law litigation can be found on their website. The CBC has a nice piece from a Canadian perspective here.

Finally, as Sharon Williams has pioneered, we have the international law which protects cultural property in the event of armed conflict. After a slow start, in 1999, Canada added to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-51) provisions to implement the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and in 2005 Canada acceded to the two Protocols to the 1954 Hague Convention. These contain obligations that seek to combat illicit export of cultural property from occupied territories. In November 2005 the Act was amended to allow Canada to implement its obligations concerning illicit traffic in cultural property under both Protocols. As a result, the Act now prohibits Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and stateless persons residing in Canada from illegally exporting cultural property from an occupied territory of a State Party. The Act also now provides for the return of such cultural property to its countries of origin. Canada would, however, benefit from a public guide to this area of the law, as good as the French government’s guide available here.

Bonnie book


  1. Bonnie Czegledi

    The Symposium on Criminality in the Art and Cultural Property World, held June 15-16 2012 has recently received CPD Accreditation from the LSUC. We hope to see many Slaw readers there!

  2. Bonnie Czegledi

    Symposium Sneak Peek: An RCMP officer will walk us through two successful cultural heritage crimes prosecutions.

  3. Check out the Symposium’s Twitter account:!/CrimeInArtWorld

    It has the latest updates on the Symposium, neat factoids, and more.