THUNDER BAY – Police have arrested eight people after a years-long investigation into fraud rings alleged to have created thousands of forged works purporting to be by the famed artist Norval Morrisseau.
Police announced the findings of the investigation in a press conference Friday, after a joint investigation by the Thunder Bay Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police that began in 2020.
Some of the fraudulent works were sold for tens of thousands of dollars, police said, adding they'd seized over 1,000 alleged fakes, and believed there to be 4,500 to 6,000 created by several criminal rings that were at times interconnected.
"Norval Morrisseau was a prominent artist of the Thunder Bay region and to profit off of his name is not only unethical, but also illegal," interm Thunder Bay police chief Dan Taddeo said in a statement.
Allegations of an organized fraud ring based in Thunder Bay that manufactured fraudulent Morrisseau works have swirled for years, including in a high-profile lawsuit launched by Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies, and in a subsequent documentary.
That documentary, There Are No Fakes, also surfaced allegations the fraud ring had involved "abuse against Indigenous people" as well as art fraud.
Five of the eight people charged are from Thunder Bay. The suspects include:
- Gary Lamont, 61, of Thunder Bay
- Benjamin Morrisseau, 53, of Thunder Bay
- David John Voss, 51, of Thunder Bay
- Diane Marie Champagne, 63, of Thunder Bay
- Linda Tkachyk, 59, of Thunder Bay
- Jeffrey Cowan, 47, of Niagara-on-the-Lake
- James White, 81, of Essa Township
- David Bremner, 75, of Locust Hill
Some of those individuals had already been publicly connected to allegations of art fraud related to Morrisseau, including Gary Lamont and Benjamin Morrisseau, the nephew of Norval and an artist in his own right.
Lamont has previously pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault from incidents that took place between 1993 and 2007, involving male victims between the ages of 17 and 24 years old, and was arrested on a new charge last year.
Norval Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, grew up in his home community of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek, formerly Sand Point First Nation, as well as in Thunder Bay, before originating the woodland style of art and finding international fame.
The artist had himself expressed concerns over fraudulent versions of his artwork in the years leading up to his death in 2007 at age 75.
Police encourage anyone who believes they may be in possession of a fraudulent work of art to seek legal advice by contacting a lawyer or the Law Society of Ontario, which operates a service providing free half-hour consultations.