Policy Development

Strengthening the Cultural Property Export and Import Act

The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that significant cultural heritage is safeguarded for the benefit of all Canadians and is accessible to them.

Among the most important measures in place to achieve these objectives and to fight international illicit traffic in cultural property is the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.

The Cultural Property Export and Import Act came into force in 1977. This law enables Canada to implement its primary obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Act establishes systems of export and import control over cultural property and encourages, through tax incentives, the sale and donation of significant cultural property to designated cultural institutions in Canada.

The Act also plays a role in implementing Canada's obligations under the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the two Protocols to the Convention.

The Cultural Property Export and Import Act is now almost 30 years old. The Department of Canadian Heritage is reviewing the legislation to ensure that it remains as effective as possible in the protection of Canadian and international heritage. It is also important for the Act to continue to balance the rights of the individual owners of cultural property with the public interest.

Some changes to the Act that could be considered would have policy implications or could substantively alter how the Act works to protect heritage, and the impact that the Act has on Canadians. The Government is therefore seeking the views of Canadians on a number of issues and options. These questions are contained in a discussion document that has been designed to encourage debate and seek public input.

A summary of input received is now available.

International Role

Over the years, the Heritage Policy Development Directorate has played an active role in several international cultural heritage initiatives relating to UNESCO, the Council of Europe and with individual countries. The following examples outline the ongoing involvement of the Branch in major UNESCO initiatives since the 1970's, and demonstrate how we continue to be key players today.

  • The former Department of Communications, which became part of the Department of Canadian Heritage, was actively involved in the negotiations that led to the development of the 1970 UNESCO  Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Canada became a State Party to the Convention in 1978 after introduction of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act as implementing legislation for the Convention in 1977. The provisions of the Act created the Movable Cultural Property Program and the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, which is responsible for certifying cultural property for income tax purposes.

  • Canada joined the 1954 UNESCO  Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, known as the 1954 Hague Convention. The Heritage Policy Development Directorate chairs an interdepartmental working group that includes representatives from the departments of National Defence, Foreign Affairs and Justice, to oversee implementation of the Convention in Canada. Along with other members of that working group, Canadian Heritage staff played an important role in the 1999 Diplomatic Conference that developed the Second Protocol to the Convention. Following amendments to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act and the Criminal Code, Canada acceded to the First (1954) and Second (1999) Protocols in 2005, and they came into force in Canada on March 1, 2006.

  • The Heritage Policy Development Directorate represents Canada on the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation. The 22-member Committee assists Member States in seeking resolution of disputes over cultural property, undertakes a range of awareness-raising and capacity-building initiatives about illicit traffic in cultural property, and guides the planning and implementation of UNESCO 's activities in the area of return and restitution of cultural property. Canada was first elected to the Committee in 1983, and was then re-elected for additional four-year terms in 1988, 1995 and most recently in 2003. In 2005 Canada was elected Chair of the Committee for the second time in six years and was re-elected Chair in 2007.