1. Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz’s Blues Brothers photo was supposed to one day be displayed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Looks like that won’t happen, tho.

In October 2015, I wrote the following about the Annie Leibovitz collection:

In 2013, it was announced that the Annie Leibovitz collection would be donated to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, but the photographs still haven’t been put on display, and there’s no hope that the collection will be displayed before 2017, reports the CBC’s Jennifer Henderson.

I’ve been chasing this story for a while, and no one will go on the record about it. But here’s my suspicion: The Mintz family, who are making the donation, want a tax write-off for it, but can’t secure one.

In July, acting on a tip, I sent this request for information to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, which rules on tax write-offs for artistic donations:

My questions are in regard to the Secretariat to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. It is my understanding that the Review Board reports to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and in that respect makes recommendations for certifications for tax exemptions and value of art.

In particular, I’m interested in the Annie Leibovitz collection of photography, which is intended as a gift from Al and Faye Mintz of Toronto to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. It is my understanding that the Cultural Property Export Review Board has made (possibly repeated) rulings on the tax exemption status of the collection.

Can you confirm the above? Also, may I please have a copy of the ruling(s)? And for context, can you direct me to a link or otherwise provide background information about the role of the Cultural Property Export Review Board in regard to assessing cultural benefit of art, in particular regard to how art should have a Canadian cultural element?

I received the following response:

The content of Board meetings and decisions that relate to taxpayer information cannot be made public. It is protected under the Income Tax Act, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. As a result, the Review Board cannot discuss specific cases. 

Well, OK. So I can’t know exactly what’s going on here, but as I see it, there are three conflicting interests at stake: the Mintz family’s understandable desire for a tax break, the money-troubled Leibovitz looking for some form of recompense, and the AGNS, which seems to have overreached to promote an American artist’s work donated by Toronto gazillionaires instead of focusing on the more mundane but more appropriate mission of building an interesting collection to a scale that is affordable and attainable in a Nova Scotian context.

In June 2015, then-AGNS director Ray Cronin was forced to resign, and last year Nancy Noble was hired to replace him.

Noble was previously the CEO of the Museum of Vancouver, where her most notable achievement was the acquisition of 18 sculptures supposedly created by Michelangelo. Turns out, however, the deal was a tax scam:

Initially, the donation looked like a win-win situation. The museum was the beneficiary of about $30 million worth of rare sculptures, and investor-donors received tax receipts for that amount.

Those receipts would have generated tax credits equal to the top marginal combined federal and provincial tax rate (currently 43.7 per cent). That means approximately $13 million flowed into the pockets of the investor-donors, courtesy of Canadian taxpayers.

But, alas, the sculptures weren’t made by Michelangelo after all, but by some minor Dutch artist no one cares much about, and so the museum sent them to auction:

Sotheby’s estimated that, when the first half of the collection goes to auction on Jan. 31, it will fetch only $200,000 to $300,000. That implies that the entire collection is worth only about $500,000.

That’s bad news for the museum. It means it will receive only a fraction of the amount it anticipated. But it’s worse news for Canadian taxpayers. It means they received little value for the approximately $13 million in tax credits they provided the investor-donors.

But no one bid on the sculptures, so the Museum of Vancouver made a private deal to sell nine of the sculptures to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for $200,000. The other nine sculptures are “in storage,” perhaps sitting in a box propping open a washroom door in the Museum basement.

With that remarkable track record, Noble was apparently hired by the AGNS to make the Leibovitz deal work.

How’s that going? Not so great.

Burned once by the fake Michelangelo deal, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board wasn’t about to stick its hand into the tax scam fire a second time.

I knocked on a lot of doors to chase this story, unsuccessfully tried to contact Leibovitz and the Mintzes, filed a Freedom of Information request for documents related to the Leibovitz deal, paid a hefty $460 processing fee, and got back a two-inch thick stack of mostly redacted documents.

The CBC, however, discovered that the Mintz family had started, and then aborted, a lawsuit against the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, and found a trove of court documents that sheds lights on the deal, reports  Richard Cuthbertson:

The Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board’s repeated refusal to certify the bulk of the Leibovitz photos as “cultural property” has not only alienated her, but has also deprived her of nearly $2.5 million US, CBC News has learned.


But Mintz said Leibovitz has only been paid half the $4.75 million US purchase price and that their agreement dictates she will receive the second half only when the review board certifies the work.

While Leibovitz is currently out millions of dollars, she retains copyright over the collection, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia won’t detail precisely what that means, but Nancy Noble, the gallery’s current CEO, said artists can generally dictate how their work is displayed and marketed.

The decisions by the review board, Noble said in an interview, “kind of distanced the artist from not just the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia but from Canada as a whole.”

“When a quasi-judicial governmental board says your work’s not nationally or culturally significant, obviously that’s going to have some impact,” she said in an interview.

I’ll leave it for others to judge the artistic merit of Leibovitz’s work, but when a gazillionaire Toronto family came knocking on an obscure (in the international sense) art gallery door in a remote and poor province offering to make a big donation in return for a tax receipt, alarm bells should have been ringing everywhere: Why weren’t big name galleries in the metropolis biting on that morsel?

The Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board could see right through the scam. The AGNS, however, played the sucker.

The court documents, writes Cuthbertson, show:

• That just days before the donation was made, the Canada Revenue Agency noted it as a potential tax shelter, raising the prospect that a numbered company controlled by the Mintz family might end up turning a profit by giving the collection away.
• That a draft sales agreement indicated the numbered company would pay Leibovitz $4.75 million US for the prints, but that half the money was contingent on what valuation the work would be given by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.
• That the sale went through April 1, 2013, and the Mintz family donated the prints to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia two days later.
• That following the donation, the gallery tried to have the prints certified by the review board at a fair market value of $20 million, based on three appraisals — more than four times the purchase price in the draft agreement.
• That had all the work been certified and the fair market value of $20 million been approved, it may have led to a tax refund/credit for the Mintz family up to double what they paid for the collection.
• That the board initially refused to certify any of the collection. After a second application, it only certified 762 unpublished “file prints” that documented the artist’s process, and valued them at $1.6 million. It rejected the bulk of the collection — 1,300 photos.

Notes taken by a senior adviser to the review board during its second deliberation on the collection suggest board members were concerned about several things, including whether the work was of “outstanding significance” to Canada.

The adviser also wrote: “Motivation here is to make a tax grab — motivation is key — this is tax package stuff — made for financial not artistic reasons — this is NOT the same as everything else.”

While the Leibovitz collection was donated to the AGNS, clearly the museum has spent much time and money planning to show it, with the idea that a new space would be created for it. Who knows how much has been spent? Hundreds of thousands of dollars already, no doubt; possibly more. And it now looks like the collection will never be exhibited.

Beyond money, however, is the reputational hit to the museum, and to Nova Scotia generally.

2. Open Streets

“Five years in, city and province still make Open Streets too costly,” writes Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler:

Back when it started five years ago, Switch founder and then-director of the Planning and Design Centre Ross Soward told me he hoped Switch could become a civic event for Halifax. That aspiration, for city-sponsored weekly Open Street Sundays, is now languishing underneath a bureaucracy whose over-the-top concerns for public safety seem completely detached from reality, and also firmly obstruct the path to better public health.

Click here to read “Policing and 6-foot fences: Five years in, city and province still make Open Streets too costly.”

This article is behind the paywall. That’s how we pay Butler and support this site without annoying advertising. Click here to subscribe.

3. Removing Cornwallis

A Facebook event called “Removing Cornwallis” was created earlier this week:

Come Join Us to Peacefully remove Cornwallis statue, a statue that for too long has been representing genocide in Mikmaki. We are calling on our Warriors, Protectors, Allies, Friends and Lovers to join us in this historic event.

The event time is Saturday noon-3pm.

I haven’t spoken with the event organizers, but clearly their aim is political. I mean, if you only wanted to remove the statue all you’d need is a pickup truck, 30 feet of chain, and 15 minutes in the dead of night to pull the thing down. Announcing publicly that you’re going to remove the statue is intended, I think, to draw broad attention to the effort, perhaps with the aim of getting arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

But Mayor Mike Savage yesterday issued a statement urging respect for law and so forth.

Nicely played, Removing Cornwallis organizers.

4. Urban Forest

Grad students and volunteers are transforming a patch of grass at the Windsor Street Exchange into an Acadian forest. Photo: James Steenberg/Dalhousie University

“A patch of underutilized green space between busy roads in Halifax is set to become the newest addition to the city’s urban forest,” reports Moira Donovan for the CBC:

The area around the Windsor Street Exchange, near the MacKay Bridge, is mostly grass and is maintained by the Halifax Regional Municipality.

But researchers at Dalhousie have a plan to turn that area into a stretch of urban Acadian forest. They’ve planted more than 3,000 seedlings at the site, including white, red and black spruce, larch, red maple and yellow birch. 

5. Sandeson

William Sandeson

As expected, yesterday William Sandeson was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, as is standard with first degree murder convictions.

6. World-Class Tea

Week 6 out of 17-20… PLEASE help us survive and come in for tea, sales down 50% and we are already struggling to stay open. Help.

— World Tea House – Phil Holmans (@WorldTeaHouse) July 11, 2017

I’ve stopped by the Tea House a few times. It’s a nice space, and the staff is friendly. But it relies on foot traffic, which is nowhere to be found nowadays.




Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, Alderney Public Library) — here’s the agenda.


Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — Maurita Richey is appealing an unsightly premises citation for 32 Elwin Court in Dartmouth.


No public meetings this month.

On campus



Phylodynamics of Pathogenic Mycobacteria (Thursday, 9:30am, C-150, CHEB Building) — Conor Meehan, of Antwerp’s Institute of Tropical Medicine, will speak.

Urban Forest Walkabout (Thursday, 6pm, in front of the Kenneth C Rowe Management Building) — Peter Duinker will lead a 90-minute walking tour of Halifax’s urban forest.

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 9am Wednesday. Map:

6am: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Algeciras, Spain
10:30am: Altair Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Derince, Turkey
11:30am: Faust, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for New York
3pm: YM Modesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
3:30pm: Altair Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4:30pm: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York


I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Great reporting by Tim and now by CBC about the tax scam. Sounds as if the “Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board” needs some written clarification of the acceptable methods of valuation for this and any other property. Even if the property is deemed significant, if someone can buy something for $5 million and then claim its worth $20 million shortly after that is fraud on the part of the evaluators and the owner. The problem in many cases is probably that art objects have been owned for many years before they’re considered for donation and tax benefits. But for a case like this, they should require documentation of the price paid and require that to be a central part of the evaluation.

    Judging from their title, one of the main purposes of the Board is to prevent export/loss of valuable Canadian cultural material. Much as her photos are internationally significant, the Board was right to decide there’s no loss of Canadian cultural material going on here. The original proposal was “creative” in more ways than one.

  2. RE: AGNS
    If the documentation was in 2013, it was the previous CEO Cronin who was only resigned in 2015. Noble was not in charge then.

    1. Hence: “In June 2015, then-AGNS director Ray Cronin was forced to resign, and last year Nancy Noble was hired to replace him.”

    2. And the sculptures were “donated” to the Museum of Vancouver before Nancy Noble’s tenure there. So it seems like she is tasked with cleaning up others’ messes, both at MOV and AGNS. She’s unfairly criticized here.

  3. Great article!
    The AGNS would be expected to report to public servants and to the legislature? Transparency is what every agency says it is putting near the top of its priority list; why no transparency here?

    The Review Board has done its job well -determining that the collection was not significant nationally nor was its cultural importance established. The Board’s rapid identification of the proposed deal as a tax scam should have shut this process down, but people at AGNS persisted. That should raise questions.
    Again , fine work by the journalists involved!

  4. Nothing against Nova Scotia or the AGNS, but seriously folks, this thing smelled bad from the get-go. It is baffling to me that a mere peon such as myself could tag this and not the powers that be at the AGNS.

  5. Put a bigger cool First Nation’s sculpture all around it. Have a large sculpture of these First Nations families looking down at the imperialist swine. Win-win. Also could someone explain to me the origins of the mayor’s last name? Asking for a friend.

  6. Erica Butler is right. Blocking off vehicle access to support Open Streets type events, should not require a dedicated police presence to initiate such actions. On a daily basis, throughout the year, road maintenance occurs and private traffic control companies block access and control vehicular flow around work sites that encroach on roadways… the police do not do this, it is done by private traffic control contractors. These contractors have personnel who have undergone training to enable them to carry out their duties in a safe and consistent manner. There is no reason that a group of people (yes, volunteers) associated with the Open Streets events could not receive appropriate training to erect and remove road closure barricades and signage in a safe and consistent manner at the appropriate times. This is not rocket science and the issues do not require dedicated police presence; it requires people who have been trained to do the job in a safe and consistent manner. Time to start thinking outside the box… the solution is not difficult to safely put in place.

  7. I remember when you first called the Leibovitz deal a tax scam, and I, for one, as a fan of her work, was hoping that you were wrong… unfortunately, the latest news seem to confirm what you warned about a long time ago…
    I was looking forward to seeing her collection at the AGNS, so it is definitely sad for me that this whole scam might make that the collection is going to be stored in a basement without public access… I am not sure what should happen now, but for sure am hoping that the works will be accessible someday, at AGNs or elsewhere, be it NS or not…

  8. Why does a statue always have to signify positive recognition of an individuals past achievements? In the case of Cornwallis, appropriate interpretive signage at the foot of the statue could clearly lay down both the good and the bad events that this individual initiated. Keeping the statue in place but adding appropriate historical signage would keep the story “alive”. Take the statue down and the story fads away… We have war memorial sites because we do not want people to forget the horrors of past military conflicts while still honouring those who fought and those who died to protect our way of life. In my opinion, the statue of Cornwallis could be transformed into a teaching aid, which fulfills it greater purpose and in the end, benefits all members of the public, regardless of their ancestral origin.

    1. Agree totally.

      Whatever else he did, the man founded Halifax. He was a key military figure at a time of British empire building, which happened so long ago the murderous brutality associated with establishing it (or any other empire) is long forgotten or downplayed by the ‘civilized’ society we like to believe we have since become.

      The First Nations will of course take a different view and that too should be represented at the base of this statue to offer a brief sketch of who the man was beneath his likeness.

      IMHO he may well have been a bastard but to Halifax citizens he was ‘our bastard’.

    2. John and ausca, really? A statue doesn’t have to signify positive recognition? Maybe, in some alter culturally existential way. But we’re not there. We don’t have statues of Hitler and Mussolini at our war memorials with plaques that say;

      ” Now these two fellows had a different perspective of world events. And to a lot of folks over there, they were doing a heck of good job. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree”.

      Cornwallis is an example of colonialism and the murder and theft that went with it. That’s not an opinion. That’s what colonialism is. Clearly, some people are ok with that. Many of us aren’t. If we lived in a country that had reconciled with the indigenous peoples and signed and respected the 100’s of outstanding treaties we could have a different conversation about how to represent history.

      1. David, by taking the statue down, one hides the historical significance… the controversy ceases to be talked about… the story fades away. Auschwitz Concentration Camp is a case on point, some would have destroyed the facility, raised it to the ground and tried to erase its memory from today’s public; but that did not happen. Now thousands visit the site every year… the story of the horrors are retold on a daily basis. The historical significance is not to honour or give the Auschwitz Concentration Camp any positive recognition… quite the opposite. The same benefits can be achieved by leaving the statue of Cornwallis where it is; but by ensuring relevant signage is onsite, ensures the story will be passed on to future generations as it should be told. IMO this story needs to be told on a daily basis as well.

    3. This is the heart of the matter. History does not serve us well if we simply hide stories which today are seen as negative. The “make it go away” approach doesn’t work. Cornwallis was infamous not only for the horrors he facilitated on the Mi’qmaq, but also for the things he did to Scots and Acadians and probably others. that is a story that needs to be told and told fully, bad stuff and all. Change the name of the park, create equal commemorations to Mi’gmaq leaders, Acadians and Highland Scots so we can all see the real story behind the founding of Halifax.

  9. I very much appreciate your investigation/article on the Leibovitz collection and the AGNS.
    Thank goodness for the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board and CRA!
    When a rich family (the Mintz family) gets a tax write-off for donating art to a Can. gallery or museum, they may get a tax break. If the art is judged worthy and of value to Canadians historically or culturally, the rich donors get a tax break which in this case would be very significant. However then the taxes the rich family are spared have to be paid by someone. That someone is other Canadian taxpayers including the cleaning women, clerks, bank tellers, fast food workers — low income workers – who also have to pay for the Mintz family tax break of millions. So the AGNS just grabbed a US photographer’s work (because she is famous— but of little importance to Canadian culture, heritage or art), now is on the hook. The Mintzes did not get the millions in tax relief for making the donation; and the photos can’t be shown due to the Leibovitz deal falling thru. It is sickening. What’s going on with AGNS gallery director Nancy Noble? Has she no shame?

  10. Re. Removing the Cornwallis statue

    During the Vietnam War a friend of mine announced publicly that he had hired a plane (or helicopter) to drop a dog from a great height onto the campus of the University of Saskatchewan to protest the war.. It was a hoax but nobody knew for sure ’til the scheduled time had passed. Huge reaction from animal-lovers and others. The point was brilliantly made.