Human rights complaint over nude Harper dismissed

Artist Maggie Sutherland painted a nude portrait of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Artist Maggie Sutherland painted a nude portrait of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Danielle VandenBrink, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:33 PM ET

KINGSTON, Ont. - A provincial human rights tribunal has dismissed a complaint against the city's public library that its showing of a portrait depicting a nude Prime Minister Stephen Harper constituted sexual harassment.

According to the tribunal, the complaint was filed by Curtis Stewart, a resident of St. Albert, Alta., against the Kingston Frontenac Public Library on May 22 – just days into an exhibition displaying the work at the Kingston Art Council's juried art show.

The painting, called Emperor Haute Couture, was created by local artist Margaret Sutherland and has since been sold to a Quebec buyer for $5,000.

“The stance that the library took to show a non-authorized nude portrait of the Prime Minister, Honourable Stephen Harper, to all the media and school children that visit the library is a violation to my rights,” Stewart wrote in his application to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“How do I explain this to my daughter that it is OK for anyone to do a non-authorized nude portrait of the leader of Canada and put it on display in a very public place where school-aged children come by the busload to visit? This is a complete disrespect to our country, our government and to our Prime Minister. I find this a complete form of sexual harassment to me, my family and to all Canadians.”

Stewart requested the library be ordered to pay one penny for every person in Canada – or approximately $340,000. The money would pay for costs related to his claim, with the balance to be donated to charities “that help prevent sexual harassment to children.”

On June 19, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario sent Stewart notice it intended to dismiss the application because the allegations were outside of its jurisdiction.

Stewart was asked to respond to the notice by July 19 but never did.

The application was dismissed on Sept. 19.

Stewart could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Kingston Frontenac Public Library received copies of the correspondence after the final decision was made.

Lester Webb, director of outreach and technology at the library, would not comment specifically on the allegations, saying the library has not received enough information about the complaint.

When asked about the claim of sexual harassment, Webb said the decision by the tribunal spoke to the application's merit.

“Essentially it was dismissed, so...” he said.

Artist Margaret Sutherland had not heard of the complaint prior to being called by QMI Agency, but defended her work.

“To me, it's not a true portrait,” she said. “It's an imaginary situation and is rooted in art history.

“It was for that precise reason that I didn't entitle it 'A Portrait of the Prime Minister.'”

The painting ignited a fury of media attention across the country earlier this year, and was immediately coined controversial due to its subject.

Sutherland said the painting – which depicts the nude prime minister lying across a chaise longue, being offered a Tim Hortons coffee – is a humourous take on the tale of The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson.

“In no way did I mean for it to be a portrait,” Sutherland said. “It's a figment of the artist's imagination.”

Sutherland laughed at the suggestion that exhibiting the painting would constitute sexual harassment.

“I suppose we could sue every male artist that ever painted a portrait of a female nude,” she said.

The suggestion that it would constitute sexual harassment to children is even more curious, she said.

“I think he's not giving children enough credit, frankly,” she said. “Children aren't scarred by this kind of thing. Children are completely aware of anatomy. In fact ... in this day and age I'm afraid that most children are bombarded with much harsher images than something like this, which is pretty darn mild.”

danielle.vandenbrink@sunmedia.ca


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