Protester arrested after paint splashed on Tom Thomson piece in National Gallery

OTTAWA — An artwork by renowned Canadian artist Tom Thomson at the National Gallery in Ottawa was splattered with paint on Tuesday as part of a protest against the federal government's response to wildfires.

Ottawa police said they arrested Kaleb Suedfeld and charged him with criminal mischief, adding they are still investigating.

The National Gallery of Canada said the artwork was not damaged as it was secured by a protective panel.

"We expect it to be rehung shortly," it said in a statement Tuesday.

On2Ottawa, a Canadian climate change advocacy group, had issued a news release shortly before the arrest to say paint would be thrown at Thomson's "Northern River," created in 1914-15.

An Instagram video posted by the group on Tuesday shows a man smearing the glass that protects the painting with pink paint.

"Fossil fuel industries are destroying the work of art that is our planet and the government is firmly in their grip doing nothing to stop their crimes," the man can be heard saying in the video.

"This must stop or we will not stop disrupting."

He continued by urging the government to establish a federally funded force of 50,000 firefighters.

The group said it has organized several traffic disruption demonstrations this month to draw attention to the wildfires issue and is promising further actions in Ottawa next month.

It said it has received more than $8,800 in donations through its website, which the group said goes toward "mobilization and action efforts."

Police said 11 protesters have been charged with 34 offences in connection to the traffic demonstrations.

"The gallery is collaborating with the police," the National Gallery of Canada said in its statement.

"The safety and security of our staff and visitors and of our collection remain our highest priority," it said, adding it had no further comment due to the ongoing police investigation.

Last year, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, once an avid activist who climbed the outside of the CN tower to draw attention to the climate change cause, said he doesn't agree with protesters defacing art to raise environmental concerns.

"When we did things or when I did things at Greenpeace, it was always nonviolent civil disobedience," he said in December 2022.

"I don't understand this. This contrast that some are trying to play between environment and culture," he said.

"That's not how I did it. That's not how I practiced my activism when I was with the environmental movement."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.

The Canadian Press