OTTAWA — The Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that a work by an international artist can be deemed to be of "national importance" to Canadian heritage.
On Tuesday, the appeals court restored a decision by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board preventing a Toronto auction house from shipping a painting by French artist Gustave Caillebotte to a purchaser in London, England.
In a 2017 decision, the review board refused to issue the Heffel Fine Art Auction House a permit to export Caillebotte's 1892 canvas, "Iris bleus, jardin du Petit Gennevilliers," on the basis that the work was considered of "national importance" under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
Heffel challenged the decision in federal court and won in June 2018, but the Attorney General of Canada appealed the ruling.
In its decision the appeals court ruled the lower-court judge erred by not deferring to the review board's "reasonable" interpretation that an object can be of "national importance" even if it or its creator have no direct connection to Canada.
Several museums, who rely on similar criteria of "outstanding significance" and "national importance" to entice donations of artworks through tax credits, were granted intervenor status in the appeals case.
In the March federal budget, the Liberal government moved to do away with the "national importance" requirement for donors to obtain these tax breaks.
In a statement Tuesday, Heffel expressed disappointment with the appeals court decision, saying the criteria that deems a work to be of "national importance" could be interpreted "very broadly."
Meanwhile, the Canadian government applauded the decision, with Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez calling it "a victory for our creators and our culture."
"It provides certainty about the use of the tools needed to protect our culture and our heritage," Rodriguez said in an emailed statement.