April 29, 2011

Q&A with Quebec's first art crime enforcement unit

(Left to Right) Quebec's art crime team:
Jean-François Talbot, Alain Gaulin,
 Alan Dumouchel and Sylvie Dubuc
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor-in-Chief

In 2008, the Sureté du Québec, in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police created Canada’s first national art crime enforcement unit now consisting of Jean-François Talbot, Sergeant Alain Dumouchel (both of the Sûreté du Québec) and Sylvie Dubuc, RCMP, and Sergent Superviseur Alain Gaulin (Sûreté du Québec).

Beginning in 2003, Jean-François Talbot worked for four years with Alain Lacoursière, an art historian and now-retired Montreal police officer, to develop a new investigative art crime team and Art Alert, an email bulletin sent out to 25,000 members of the art and police communities in 75 countries whenever artworks in Canada are reported stolen. In the four-year partnership between the SQ and Montreal’s city police, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), between 2004 and 2008, the two forces investigated 450 art crime files, made 20 arrests, seized over 150 stolen or forged artworks valued at $2 million, and worked with Interpol on international files.

Canada has been a member of Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, for more than 60 years and through their database is connected to 187 Interpol member countries.

The art crime team, a group within the investigative department of economic crimes, also examines forged artworks, money laundering, theft, and the sale of stolen goods. The RCMP–Sûreté du Québec team members combine strong backgrounds in art history, law, fraud, and copyright issues. The art squad, with three members from Sureté du Québec and another from the RCMP, in collaboration with the local police in Montreal, recently arrested two suspects using credit cards obtained under false identities to purchase works of art (Robert Bernier, “Art Alert”, iParcours)). They entered into agreements to pay for the art in installments. They paid the first payment by credit card, took the art, and did not pay the balance owed. Between July and November in 2010, the suspects approached seven galleries and from five of those negotiated the sale of 34 works totaling $245,000. The suspects were charged with fraud and fraudulent use of credit cards.

Statistics in art-crime related activities in Canada and Quebec are difficult to quantify as they are listed for each country, and many art thefts are classified as ‘property’ theft by local jurisdictions. The art crime investigative unit estimates that they handle an average of 90 cases annually.

Q: Who are the members of the art crime team and how were they selected?
A: Sergent Enquêteur Jean-François Talbot (Sûreté du Québec) travaillait avec Alain Lacoursière lors de la création de l’équipe d’enquêteur. Il compte 12 ans d’expérience. Il termine une formation universitaire en Histoire de l’art./Sergent Investigator Jean-François Talbot (Sûreté du Québec) worked with Alain Lacoursière in establishing the art crime investigation team. He has twelve years of experience. He is completing his university training art history. 
Sergent Enquêteur Alain Dumouchel (Sûreté du Québec) compte près de 25 ans d’expérience , dont 6 ans en enquête criminelle. Il est inscrit à une formation universitaire en Histoire de l’art./ Sergeant Investigator Alain Dumouchel (SQ) has nearly 25 years experience, including 6 years in criminal investigation. He is studying for a university degree in Art History. 
Gendarme Sylvie Dubuc (Gendarmerie Royale du Canada) compte plus de 25 ans d’expérience, dont 8 ans en droit d’auteur./Constable Sylvie Dubuc (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) has over 25 years experience, including 8 years in copyright investigation. 
Sergent Superviseur Alain Gaulin (Sûreté du Québec) est le responsable de l’équipe. Il compte plus de 20 ans d’expérience policière./ Supervisor Sergeant Alain Gaulin (SQ) is the team leader. He has over 20 years of police experience.
Q: How big of a problem is art crime in Canada?
A: Il est impossible de se prononcer pour le Canada, l’équipe travaille exclusivement au Québec. La quantité de dossier d’enquête est en nombre croissant depuis la creation de l’équipe./It is impossible answer that question with respect to all of Canada, since the team works exclusively in Quebec. The number of investigations has increased since the creation of the team.
Q: Does the Port of Montreal increase the amount of illegal art traffic you police?
A: Le Port de Montréal est un endroit ciblé par plusieurs organizations criminelles pour faire le traffic de marchandise. Les oeuvres d’arts n’y échappent pas./The Port of Montreal is targeted by several criminal organizations for the trafficking of goods. Artworks are no exception.
Q: How would you describe your working relationship with INTERPOL and US Customs? Do you find that stolen art in Canada leaves the country? Is working with other international agencies important to the success of Canada’s art crime unit?
A: Nous avons une excellente collaboration avec les responsables d’Interpol à Ottawa. Nous consultons régulièrement leur banque de données pour completer nos dossiers. Nous avons fais des rencontres avec des enquêteurs des pays suivants: France: Office Centrale de la lutte des biens culturels; Belgique: Police Judiciaire Fédérale (Oeuvre d’art et Antiquité); États-Unis: F.B.I. & Secret Service. La collaboration avec les autres agences internationales est primordiale pour nous et permet d’obtenir des résultats dans nos enquêtes./We have excellent cooperation with Interpol officials in Ottawa. We regularly consult their database to complete our records. We have met with investigators from the following countries: France (Central Office for the Protection of Cultural Property); Belgium (Federal Judicial Police in Artwork and Antiquities); and the U.S. (F.B.I. and the Secret Service). Collaboration with other international agencies is of the utmost importance to us and can produce results in our investigations.
Q: What is the biggest challenge Quebec’s art crime team faces in recovering a stolen work of art?
A: Le plus grand défi réside dans la rapidité de notre intervention permettant la récupération des oeuvres volées./The biggest challenge is how quickly we can act to recover the stolen art.
Q: Describe an average day for Quebec’s art crime team.
A: Il est difficile de décrire une journée type. Les événements imprévus viennent souvent changer notre planification. En plus des tâches usuels de notre travail d’enquêteur, il y a les rencontres des divers propriétaires de galerie et autres personnes relies au milieu de l’art de la province permettant d’établir des contacts./It is difficult to describe a typical day.  Unexpected events often modify our planning. In addition to the usual tasks related to our investigative work, there are various meetings of gallery owners and others connected to the province's art scene in order to establish contacts.
Q: Please tell us about the development of Art Alert and how it works today.
A: Le courriel Art Alert a été crée en 2005. C’est un outil de travail fort utile pour nous. Il rejoint de plus en plus de monde au Canada et ailleurs. On recoit régulièrement des demandes du public demandant à être abonné./The e-mail Alert Art was founded in 2005 and is a very useful tool for us. We are reaching more and more people in Canada and elsewhere. We regularly receive requests from the public asking to be subscribed to Art Alert.
Q: What piece of advice would you offer to individuals interested in pursuing a career in art crime investigation?
A: Pour devenir enquêteur en oeuvre d’art au Québec, il faut être policier d’un service de police. Une formation en histoire de l’art ou autre domaine connexe est un atout./To become an art crime investigator in Quebec, you must employed as a police officer. A background in art history or related field is desirable.
Q: What would you most like to see the Quebec’s art crime team achieve in the next five years?
A: Depuis la formation de l’équipe, la charge de travail ne cesse d’augmenter, l’ajout d’enquêteur confirmerait la réussite de notre équipe. La reconnaissance par le milieu de l’art au Québec de la nécéssité de cette équipe est un autre objectif. /Since the formation of the team, the workload is increasing, and to add investigators would help the success of our team. Recognition by the Quebec art community of the necessity for this team is another goal.
Readers may request a subscription to Quebec's Art Alert by sending an email to: art.alerte@surete.qc.ca

This article has been posted here with the permission of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime which will publish this article in it's Spring/Summer 2011 issue.  You may subscribe to the Journal of Art Crime through ARCA's website here.

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