~ Formerly S8871/08 (Otavnik Vs Sinclair and Kinsman Robinson Galleries)
SMALL CLAIMS COURT
Joseph Otavnik had originally named both Ritchie Sinclair and the Kinsman Robinson Galleries (owned by Donald Robinson) as co-defendants in his case focussing on Ritchie Sinclair's website, www.morrisseau.com. That website featured more than 1,000 images of Morrisseau paintings that Sinclair had pulled from websites all over the place, and labelled as fakes and forgeries, including paintings belonging to major museums, art galleries, dealers, and collectors. It deliberately impugned the integrity, and greatly harmed the businesses and incomes, of numerous very experienced and reputable art dealers across Canada.
Kinsman Robinson Galleries (KRG) was named as a defendant in Otavnik's suit because KRG was publicly endorsing Ritchie Sinclair, and the defamatory information he had posted on his website, www.morrisseau.com, by including a link to it on KRG's own website. Publicizing that defamatory website with a link was a clear and deliberate affront to Robinson's colleagues in the art business across Canada, since it linked the names and businesses of many of his fellow dealers who had been selling Morrisseau paintings for years, with accusatory and defamatory words like fraud, forgery, and fakes.
The part of Joseph Otavnik's suit that named the Kinsman Robinson Galleries as co-defendant was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Kinsman Robinson Galleries removed the link to Ritchie Sinclair's deliberately defamatory and destructive website.
The judge dismissed both cases because insufficient proof had been presented to prove either claim. Both plaintiff and defendant would bear their own expenses.
The court found that Joseph Otavnik – thanks to his own expert witness Joseph McLeod - failed to prove that his painting’s worth, authenticity, validity, as a Morrisseau, had been in any way devalued, at this time, and that Ritchie Sinclair – in spite of his own expert witness, Don Robinson’s best efforts - had failed to prove it was a fake, (which would, in reality, have devalued it).
Therefore, the judge dismissed Mr. Otavnik's claim that he had suffered financial loss at this time as a result of Ritchie Sinclair's unproven accusations.
Nevertheless, testimony for the case, under oath, brought out some extremely revealing information about the motivations of some of the small number of people who have been busy spreading word of the purported "Morrisseau fakes."
MAIN CASE DETAIL
The tort of injurious falsehood requires that the plaintiff must prove:
a) that the defendant published words that were disparaging of the plaintiff's property,
b) that the words were false,
c) that malice was involved,
d) that the plaintiff suffered special damages.
The judge ruled that the plaintiff had not sufficiently proven his case, as follows:
A & B) Falsely Disparaging the Plaintiff's Property
The judge said that the evidence given in this case did not prove that the painting was either genuine or fake since, in his eyes, neither of the testifying witnesses, Mr. McLeod or Mr. Robinson, could tilt the balance against the other.
The judge preferred not to make a decision on the authenticity of the painting. He said, "I'm not prepared to accept the evidence of Mr. McLeod for the plaintiff over that of Mr. Robinson for the defendant as to the authenticity of the painting. Both witnesses are reputed art dealers who gave their respective opinions, but the plaintiff's evidence did not sufficiently tip the scales in the plaintiff's favour.”
Joseph McLeod authoritatively stated that Mr. Otavnik’s painting is definitely a genuine Morrisseau. Joseph McLeod, is the owner of Maslak McLeod Gallery, a long-time art collector, former Dean of English at Seneca College, and was the expert witness for the plaintiff, and said he knew Morrisseau and his paintings well for many years, (from 1960 to 1985), and still keeps in close touch with Morrisseau's family.
The judge said that he had not been presented with enough evidence to adequately allow him to make a determination of malice on the part of the defendant.
The judge stated that he believed that Ritchie Sinclair was merely reiterating statements previously made in newspaper articles, or attributed to Morrisseau himself.
The judge could do little else, since no evidence was presented to discredit these newspaper articles, or to cast doubt on the credibility of any statements that purportedly came from an ailing Morrisseau in serious decline in the final decade of his life.
The judgement, in ruling that no “malice” by Ritchie Sinclair was in evidence, failed to take into consideration key court testimony by reputable and sworn witnesses, possibly because none of it was included, as a reminder, in the final summation by the plaintiff.
Joseph McLeod testified that, early in the autumn of 2008, a very irate Ritchie Sinclair came into Joseph McLeod's Gallery and was "extremely belligerent." Ritchie angrily announced, "Hey man, fat cats." ... "I am going to take down the whole Morrisseau market," and (said Mr. McLeod) Ritchie ranted on and on. And finally I (McLeod) said "Listen, you know, get out."
About that time the www.morrisseau.com website went up.
2) No mention was made, that when Ritchie Sinclair’s aggressive behaviour was ratcheted up, fine art dealer Joseph McLeod complained to police of a series of belligerent personal attacks on him by Ritchie Sinclair that led to a restraining order to prevent Ritchie Sinclair from further approaching his person and place of business.
4) There was no mention by the court of another source of possible malice, indicated in the testimony of Ms. Donna Shea (Vice-President of Randy Potter Auctions and a registered nurse), arising from her auction house being involved in selling off a number of Ritchie Sinclair paintings, legally seized and sold by the owner of a storage locker, for non-payment of bills, and sent to Randy Potter Auctions for sale. Ms. Shea testified that Ritchie Sinclair sent a letter to Randy Potter Auctions warning the auctioneer not to sell his property. After consulting a lawyer, the auction house legally sold off the paintings of Ritchie Sinclair.
Was this why Ritchie Sinclair subsequently launched malicious internet attacks specifically on Randy Potter Auctions and the Morrisseaus it was selling?
5) Ms. Donna Shea further, testified in court, under oath, of the first time she had met Ritchie Sinclair at her auction (c 1999-2000), where she was selling Morrisseau paintings, from the same source and of the same Norval Morrisseau style and period, as Mr. Otavnik’s painting.
Ms Shea testified, that, after the auction, he (Ritchie Sinclair) "was standing staring at the wall, which had several Morrisseaus up, and I (Shea) asked him what he thought, and he was saying they were beautiful, that he had no money to buy a Morrisseau, and that this was the type of painting that he would love to have.”
It is instructive to note, of the more than 1,000 supposed Morrisseau “fakes” Ritchie Sinclair subsequently denounced on his website – almost all from, or similar to those from, Ms. Shea’s auction house, and most painted in the 1970s or 80s – these particular paintings were the only ones he could ever personally examine, and validate, to his heart’s content: check the acrylic, touch the canvas, feel the texture, turn them over to see and validate the back inscriptions, titling, and autographs put there by Norval Morrisseau himself, note the age burn, see the brush strokes, compare the visual style, etc., and, after doing all that, he authoritatively admired them as authentic and real, to Ms. Shea, according to her sworn court testimony.
Real enough to express, to her, his wistfulness that he could never afford any of them.
For some reason Ritchie Sinclair apparently decided, later, that since he couldn’t buy them, he would “torch them” and make every effort to de-value them.
Is this the source of his later resentment against the “fat cats,” and his reason for telling Joseph McLeod that he (Sinclair) was “going to take down the whole Morrisseau market,” according to Mr. McLeod’s separate testimony?
For whatever reasons, Ritchie Sinclair, later, made an abrupt and inexplicable reversal, specifically on the 1970s and 1980s style of Morrisseau paintings sold through Randy Potter Auctions.
6) Ritchie Sinclair as Morrisseau Expert
To sum up his case, Ritchie Sinclair gave a long summary speech claiming that he was a close protégé of Norval Morrisseau for many years, and was an expert on Morrisseau's painting style, and was merely doing his civic duty in labeling more than 1,000 Morrisseaus taken from all over the web as “fakes.”
He said he was working to protect the people of Canada, and the schoolchildren of tomorrow, from these supposed "fake" Morrisseau paintings,( the overwhelming majority of which he had never personally seen, handled, or examined, but, claimed, in an amazing act of derring-do that would amaze any professional fine art curator, to be able to assess from a low resolution web image.)
Ritchie Sinclair’s unsubstantiated claims - he produced no documents, no affidavits, no letters from Norval Morrisseau, no sworn testimony from Wolf Morrisseau*** or other family members, etc. - of his supposed long association with Morrisseau and self-proclaimed expertise on the paintings - especially of those 1970s paintings, done long before Ritchie Sinclair ever met Morrisseau - were made at length in a summary statement at the end of the case.
(***Wolf Morrisseau, for example, was Norval’s brother and lived with him for fifteen years, during the same period that the paintings in question were painted, and he clearly remembers the circumstances under which Norval Morrisseau first met Ritchie Sinclair.)
No questions challenging the actual relationship Ritchie Sinclair had with Norval Morrisseau, or challenging Mr. Sinclair’s highly suspect claims to be a Morrisseau "protegé" with a long and close painting relationship with Norval Morrisseau had been levelled by Joseph Otavnik during the trial.
Yet, when Ritchie Sinclair introduced these grandiose claims about his own background and expertise for the first time during the case summary, the plaintiff, Mr. Otavnik, was not given an opportunity to cross-examine him on his wild claims to expertise, apparently recognized only by himself and his roommate, who was the only witness Ritchie Sinclair had been able to get to support him in his two-day presentation of his counter suit.
7) In fact the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society (NMHS), said to be appointed by Norval Morrisseau to draw up a catalogue raisonné of his work, completely ignored Ritchie Sinclair’s desire to become a member of the group, according to Ritchie Sinclair himself, which reportedly angered him.
Mr. Joseph McLeod testified that Ritchie Sinclair ranted angrily to him that he resented the fact that the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society did not think enough of Sinclair's so-called expertise on Morrisseau and his art to ask him to become a member.
Ritchie Sinclair told an astonished McLeod that he deserved to be a member; yet the Society, set up with the approval of Morrisseau himself, pointedly ignored him.
(If it is true that Morrisseau set up the NMHS, and, if indeed Ritchie Sinclair did try to become a member, it seems that Morrisseau clearly gave a decisive thumbs down to Ritchie Sinclair, both as an approved apprentice, and as a spokesman and expert for his art.)
Mr. McLeod expressed astonishment at Mr. Sinclair’s overblown and self-delusional opinion of his own "expertise" as being the equal of Canada’s top fine art curators. (Testimony pages 31-32)
Joseph McLeod testified that in 2008 “He came into my gallery and I did not know him. I might have seen him two or three times and he was irate because he had not been asked by Kinsman Robinson to be part of the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society. And I was shocked. I had no idea he had any interest in this kind of thing. I didn’t know what his background was or who he was. And I explained to him that it was not the choice of KRG to decide who was going to be on the board. I guess to summarize, he was out of his realm…. They were asking the curator of the National Gallery… academics from Carlton University…”
Though Mr. Otavnik did not introduce evidence to challenge Ritchie Sinclair’s claims of superlative expertise, (the rationale apparently being "why challenge the overblown claims that no one believes anyway?), the court appeared to give Ritchie Sinclair the benefit of the doubt, by apparently accepting his self-proclaimed expertise and mission statement, even though he offered no proof or details of any kind to support or corroborate his wild claims and unsubstantiated charges that impugn the top professional fine art curators of hallowed fine art museums in Canada and the US.
The court apparently did give weight to the fact that plaintiff Otavnik had shown evidence that Ritchie Sinclair's website of more than 1,000 images, pulled randomly off the web all over the place, included Morrisseaus that Ritchie Sinclair said were fakes that are in the finest collections in the land, including: the Smithsonian Museum, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Nova Scotia Art gallery, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the Fred Jones Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, among others.
Though the court accepted Ritchie Sinclair’s claim to some kind of expertise in his background, it clearly was not swayed by his ability to render proper and believable opinions on art.
The court was apparently convinced that the sum total of curatorial expertise at those elite institutions supported by the expertise of Joseph McLeod, far outweighed in validity, any wild internet charges invented by Ritchie Sinclair.
The court was also clearly swayed by Mr. Otavnik who pointed out - and was not challenged in his claim - the ludicrous fact that on a number of occasions, on his website of supposed “forgeries,” Ritchie Sinclair even called fake, paintings that his own expert witness Donald Robinson was selling in his own Kinsman Robinson Galleries.
"Norval Morrisseau paintings & COAs", © Norval Morrisseau
~ Each painting comes with a COA - inspected & signed by Norval Morrisseau in 2002
/Collection of Ugo Matulić a.k.a. Spirit Walker', Calgary, Alberta/
D) Special Damages Suffered By the Plaintiff
The judge said the plaintiff, Joseph Otavnik, had failed to prove that he suffered special damages. i.e. that the painting, as a result of Ritchie Sinclair’s blog, was now not anything less than what he claimed it was, a genuine Morrisseau.
1) The judge did not accept the plaintiff's claim that his painting was worthless, as a result of Ritchie Sinclair's website, "even accepting that it is an original Morrisseau."
In fact the judge held that Joseph Otavnik’s painting - which he granted Otavnik and expert witness McLeod held to be a real Morrisseau - had not lost any value, and had not been damaged in worth, or authenticity, in any way by Ritchie Sinclair. So, in a roundabout way, the judge said he disagreed with Ritchie Sinclair that it was a fake. In fact, as the judge was making clear, were he to agree with Ritchie Sinclair that it was a fake, then Ritchie Sinclair certainly had failed to prove it so.
The judge said that an article (magazine, newspaper, blog) claiming a painting to be a fake may lessen the number of people interested in the painting, but he could not accept the plaintiff's claim that “he could not even give the painting away.”
To support his finding, the judge pointed out that Joseph Otavnik’s own expert witness, Joseph McLeod, stated that the defendant's website, posting more than 1,000 fakes, would not affect institutional or other sophisticated buyers, that, in effect, Ritchie Sinclair’s comments would not affect the market of real Morrisseau paintings, like the very one in question, that Mr. McLeod certified as authentic, and belonging to Joseph Otavnik.
The judge said that Mr. Otavnik's apparent worst case scenario, is that he would have to spend more money to authenticate the painting, due to the negative publicity. He said that Mr. Otavnik seeks, however, not the potential increased costs of authenticating, but the market value of the painting, which he set at $10,000.
The judge said that it was not clear to him to what extent Ritchie Sinclair's comments might have affected the price, since rumours of fake Morrisseau art existed before the defendant's website. He was "not persuaded by the plaintiff's evidence that the defendant's blog put the final nail in the market value of the painting."
The court was not reminded, in the summation, of the fact that Donna Shea, Vice President of Randy Potter Auctions, and others, testified before the judge that the demand for Morrisseaus at auction had declined to nothing, directly as a result of the malicious nature of www.morrisseau.com website, because it left people in doubt and associated the names of honest businesses and people with words like “fraud” and “fake,” with little or less evidence. The number of outraged fine art dealers who believe this, and are willing to testify to this, or write affidavits, is growing.
2) The judge further said that, as the plaintiff clearly indicated that he is not planning to sell his painting, his claim is premature, since he has not established an actual monetary loss in the short term, or indeed, a loss to his Morrisseau painting in the long term.
Since the plaintiff himself, testified that the painting could be worth money in the future if the market turned around, the judge felt that the plaintiff would be unjustly enriched today if damages were granted prior to any actual loss.
3) The judge said that, although the case claimed slander of title (defamation of the painting, which devalued it), in final written submissions, Mr. Otavnik also claimed that Ritchie Sinclair damaged his reputation through libel and slander.
However, the judge said that there was no evidence of damage to Mr. Otavnik's reputation, since he was not identified as the owner of the alleged “fake” painting slandered on Ritchie Sinclair's website.
The judge dismissed the plaintiff's claim of having suffered any economic loss of any kind at this time, and dismissed Joseph Otavnik’s case as insufficiently proven.
Mr. Sinclair filed a counter claim of harassment and defamation against Mr. Otavnik.
The harassment claim related to a history of litigation involving Mr. Sinclair and others as defendants. Ritchie Sinclair claimed Joseph Otavnik was behind a whole raft of legal prosecutions that victimized him, a claim Mr. Otavnik strongly denied.
Powerful witness testimony from Mr. Jim White and Mr. Sunni Kim, two dealers in fine art and Morrisseau paintings, spoke strongly and convincingly, that, contrary to Ritchie Sinclair’s passionate charges, Joseph Otavnik had not initiated, been a party to, or contributed funding to their various independent court actions against Ritchie Sinclair.
Jim White pointed out that it was Ritchie Sinclair himself, and his wild website charges that resulted in his problems with lawsuits coming from all sides. In one of the strongest statements heard in the court, Mr. White stared firmly at Ritchie Sinclair and, when asked by Ritchie Sinclair about several gallery owners who are planning a lawsuit against him, replied testily, “We’re going to tell the world what a liar you are.” It reminded everyone in court, including the judge, that there are a lot of upstanding fine art gallery owners who are passionately angry at what Ritchie Sinclair and his roommate (he was Ritchie Sinclair’s only witness to testify in the countersuit) are doing.
Mr. Otavnik openly said, several times, that he was willing to share his files on court actions he was filing on his own, and would continue to serve the public good by doing so. All of these actions related to Ritchie Sinclair’s unproven allegations of fake Morrisseau paintings.
Mr. Sinclair also claimed Mr. Otavnik deleted many references relating to Norval Morrisseau entered by Ritchie Sinclair on the Wikipedia website.
He further claimed that Mr. Otavnik had launched anonymous internet attacks on him on other web sites and was hounding him, entrapping him with sting operations, or prompting others to harass him.
He further claimed Mr. Otavnik made threatening phone calls or acted in a threatening manner to his roommate at his home. (The court heard convincing testimony that a clearly apologetic Mr. Otavnik had afterwards called back to apologize to Ritchie Sinclair’s roommate after the single phone exchange he apparently had with him over trying to serve court documents on Ritchie Sinclair.)
The judge said, that with the obviously caustic relations between the two men, that Mr. Otavnik may have been responsible for some of these actions.
However, in spite of many hours of testimony over two full days, Mr. Sinclair was not able to produce convincing enough evidence strong enough to overrule the strong testimony of Mr. Otavnik, Mr. White, and Mr. Kim. For the last two hours the judge grew exasperated saying, multiple times, he hadn’t heard anything relevant, or new, from Mr. Sinclair that would have any bearing whatsoever on his decision. The judge cut him off countless times. He had clearly made up his mind on how he would rule long before Ritchie Sinclair’s long and rambling attempt to throw everything he could think of into the mix.
(Sinclair's rambling testimony was rather like the chicken cannon on the CBC's Canadian Air Farce program - throw everything you have at the target, and hope that something sticks.)
Finally the judge concluded, “I cannot conclude on the evidence that Mr. Sinclair has been defamed.”
The judge held that to prove his harassment countersuit, Mr. Sinclair was required to prove:
a) outrageous conduct
c) proximate causation, and,
d) severe or extreme emotional distress, and, possibly, a visible, and provable, illness.
The judge held that, even were the facts to satisfy 1, 2, and 3 (on which he did not rule definitively either), the evidence fell well short of number 4, being the obligation of Mr. Sinclair to establish severe or extreme emotional distress, and possibly, a physical and provable illness.
The judge dismissed Ritchie Sinclair’s defamation and harassment countersuit, and, in the final indignity, told him to absorb his own court costs.
The judge ruled, overall, that Joseph Otavnik had not suffered a financial loss because Ritchie Sinclair had failed to damage the value of his painting, by calling it a fake, even though this was a charge Mr. Sinclair failed to prove, in the eyes of the court. Hence no financial loss to Mr. Otavnik, or his painting could be concluded at this time.
POSTSCRIPT & SUMMATION
The record on so-called Morrisseau “fakes” remains absolutely clear: No court anywhere has ever found that there is even a single fake Morrisseau painting out there, let alone multiples, or more than 1,000, wildly targeted by the self-declared art expert and self-styled internet guru Ritchie Sinclair.
Every attempt to prove a fake Morrisseau, or that a Morrisseau forgery, or a related criminality had ever taken place, has been soundly and roundly defeated in every suit by every judge and court asked to make a ruling:
2) In 2007, the Globe & Mail’s wild and erroneous charges of fake Morrisseaus, ended in favour of Mr. Michael Moniz who took the newspaper to court for libel because of its irresponsible journalism and defamatory claims in an article 'Old Art Scam surfaces on-line' by Val Ross, that used his painting as an illustration of a fake Morrisseau.
"Father and Son", 30"x30" © 1977 Norval Morrisseau
~ Artwork involved in a case Michael Moniz vs. CTV Globemedia Publishing Inc.
Failing to prove its false allegations, the Globe conceded and agreed to pay a huge out-of-court settlement to the Morrisseau owner. In revenge, and in obvious shame, the Globe enforced a non-disclosure silencer on the successful plaintiff to cover up its journalistic incompetence and wrongful accusations, a mistake that had cost the paper tens of thousands of dollars.
Despite its violation of journalistic ethics with the non-disclosure clause forced on the plaintiff, for its part, the Globe took no steps to remove copies of the offending and defamatory article off the internet, where it remains in use today, continuing to wrongly damage the heritage of Norval Morrisseau with its acknowledged false claims.
Shame on the Globe & Mail for using the power and wealth of its big corporation to cover up its sloppy journalism, and for failing to publish a retraction as prominent as its original defamatory article.
"Over the course of selling Norval Morrisseau works over the past 30 years, Drs. Browne and Witmer are the first customers who have ever questioned the authenticity and provenance of our paintings," Ms. Bugera wrote. "As with any other customer, Bearclaw Gallery has treated Drs. Browne and Witmer in a manner not inconsistent with the standards expected of any other fine art gallery in Alberta."
Ms. Bugera subsequently complained of “‘the great lengths’ the Brownes - who were uninformed, beginning Morrisseau collectors - took to express their ‘dissatisfaction’” with the Morrisseau painting they bought from her. This included launching Mr. Browne's "www.morrisseaubuyersbeware.com" which vilified the painting, on little or less evidence, as a “fake.”
But in spite of their best efforts, Brown and Wittmer failed, utterly, to find proof of any kind, from any authority that the Bugera painting was a fake, so undermining, totally, the credibility of their "www.morrisseaubuyersbeware.com" (WEBSITE DELETED IN 2010).
The original owner of the painting, who had consigned it to Bearclaw, told Drs. Browne and Witmer, in effect, to “put up or shut up.” And made them a generous offer which no one in their shoes could have refused…
“In an interview with the Citizen earlier this month, Mr. Otavnik said he had offered to refund the Brownes their money for Grandfather Speaks. But there was a condition.
"They told me that members of the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society called it a fake," Mr. Otavnik said. "I said, 'Perfect; put that in writing and I'll refund your money.' They never did."
The Brownes produced no statement in writing from experts, says Mr. Otavnik.”
In short, in spite of their loud internet defaming of the painting, and the people associated with the sale, they never could find anyone to prove it was a “fake,” like they claimed it was.
Not even Gabe Vadas. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he agreed to respond to questions about it, and then refused to respond, entirely, even to rule the painting a fake. Which he did not.
After recent conversations with Ms. Bugera and Mr. Browne, we are confident that Ms. Bugera - in line with her long standing professional policy, over 30 years - took back the very first Norval Morrisseau painting from a disgruntled buyer in her career, even though he had utterly failed to find anyone to prove to her, or anyone else, that it was a “fake,” or anything other than what she claimed it was all along: a genuine and very fine painting by Norval Morrisseau.
She was left to deal, not with a “fake” Morrisseau, but an upset and “acting out” uneducated Morrisseau buyer.
She no doubt paid him back in full, in return for the painting, just to make the noise go away.
And the final indignity to Mr. Browne and Ms. Witmer?
If our analysis is correct they may very well have ended up, as the painting’s legal owners, in effect, selling the painting back to Ms. Bugera as a genuine Morrisseau, for which they took some $26,000 in exchange.
Now how’s that for a failed campaign to declare the painting a fake?
That with the coming recession - the Ottawa Citizen article makes clear the financial stress Drs. Browne and Witmer were under - you can no longer afford your Louis Vuitton handbag, you want the money back…
Ms. Bugera will no doubt find a place for Norval’s fine painting in the home of a knowledgeable and more appreciative Morrisseau collector.
Drs. Browne and Witmer will remain, forever, mere footnotes in the history of Norval Morrisseau art - amateur art collectors, in a growing line of uninformed people, who were badly misinformed by malevolent conspirators who shout 'fake' and never, ever, have anything to back up their wild claims.
Michele & Gabor Vadas , Norval Morrisseau and members of NMHS
5) When the Kinsman Robinson Galleries was named by Joseph Otavnik as a co-defendant with Ritchie Sinclair in an injurious falsehood suit (see section entitled "Main Action" of this report), the owner, Donald Robinson, decided to settle out of court, thus avoiding having to face strong and direct questioning by Joseph Otavnik about Robinson's role in spreading rumours about supposed fake Morrisseaus. Robinson was finally presented with a chance to tell his whole "fake Morrisseau" story under oath in open court, yet, instead, he decided to take the safe route, and opt out with a pre-court settlement.
That was certainly a blow to the small group around Ritchie Sinclair who are determined to destroy the art legacy of Norval Morrisseau by spreading false rumours of fakes to scare buyers away from the thousands of genuine Morrisseau paintings created by this prolific and brilliant artist.
Instead, Robinson chose to appear only as an expert witness for Ritchie Sinclair in the main court action, where Joseph Otavnik would be severely limited in cross-examining him about his testimony supporting Sinclair's claim that Otavnik's painting was a fake. In fact, during Otavnik's cross-examination of Robinson, as Sinclair's expert witness, the judge kept limiting Mr. Otavnik's questions, by reminding him that Robinson was not the defendant in this case.
However, testimony was not all that Donald Robinson provided for Ritchie Sinclair. He also wrote and compiled a so-called "Expert Report" for Ritchie Sinclair to submit to the court, entitled "Examination into the Authenticity of an Alleged 1970's (sic) Morrisseau Painting."
"Water Spirts", acrylic on canvas, 54" x 46", © 1979 Norval Morrisseau
~ This genuine Morrisseau painting was defaced on January 27, 2010 by Bryant Ross who is director of Coghlan Art Studio & Gallery
Donald Robinson in this report acknowledged "Bryant Ross, Coghlan Gallery, Aldergrove, B.C. and Dr. Jonathan Browne, Ottawa, for their willingness to go on the record and speak out publicly about the proliferation of Morrisseau fakes. Both Bryant Ross, and Dr. Browne through his website "www.morrisseaubuyersbeware.com" warned and educated an unsuspecting public" and he "recognized and applauded all the volunteer members of the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society" (see page 74).
He states in his 'Preface' (see page 2) that he is "not receiving any monetary or other compensation from the defendant". Since the report is 74 pages long, with an additional 39 pages in the Appendix, he obviously spent several weeks of his valuable time compiling this report for a person whose defamatory actions he no longer publicly endorses on his Kinsman Robinson corporate website. His report contains many unverified claims, and no forensic analysis was done.
He agreed the report was only his opinion and implied that he didn’t need science to be allowed to hold any opinion he wished. This reduces his expertise to the same level as Ritchie Sinclair, demanding, as a right, to make wildly opinionated charges with no scientific evidence to back them up.
The “pseudo-science” praised by Donald Robinson in support of his allegations about Morrisseau fakes found another infamous incarnation in the notorious 'The James Z. Wang report' from the Pennsylvania State University analysis of “fake Morrisseau” paintings, which purported to find in Robinson’s favour.
© 1970s Norval Morrisseau
~ Genuine Norval Morrisseau painting purchased at Kahn Auctions by Donald C. Robinson of Kinsman Robinson Galleries
In fact, the sample group Dr. Wang used, as his baseline for authenticity, was entirely provided by Mr. Robinson, who had well-known and extremely strong opinions on the subject, and would use any and all means to promote them.
In fact, Dr. James Z. Wang accepted the materials Donald Robinson supplied without questioning their source, used no control group, nor did he use data from other non-aligned owners of Morrisseau paintings.
The Wang analysis, for all the patina of authenticity that professors, universities, and science can sometimes provide, to fool the unwise and gullible, was not at all what it purported to be, i.e. findings on genuine or fake Morrisseaus. Rather it was a classic case of the well-known bane of all scientific computer models, “garbage in = garbage out.”
Mr. Robinson’s self-admitted so-called "Expert Report" loses every credibility to be taken seriously on any level, not only in light of his admissions in court, but when comparing his “opinion document” to the findings of professional, internationally-recognized, forensic specialist (Mr. Brian Lindblom), who have subjected numerous Norval Morrisseau paintings, from the same period, of the same style, and signed and titled the same way as the Otavnik painting that Robinson defames as a fake, to genuine, and exhaustive scientific forensic analysis, and declared them as being, in their opinion, authentic works of the celebrated artist.
After all, none of these paintings, called "fakes" by Mr. Robinson, are copies of other existing paintings. Each is a unique creation.
Mr. Robinson also deliberately avoided the statements by many long-time friends, associates, and relatives of Norval Morrisseau who are artists, art dealers, or collectors, that the paintings that Donald Robinson deems fakes, are indeed very real, and come from Morrisseau's most prolific period. It is well documented that Morrisseau painted virtually every day of his life, and sold his paintings all over northern Ontario. Many of the paintings were amassed in several large collections by admirers of his work. These paintings are the source of the works sold through Randy Potter Auctions.
One wonders why a prominent art gallery owner like Mr. Robinson would possibly spend several weeks compiling a report for Ritchie Sinclair, a person whose work he no longer publicly endorses, and an artist whom he chooses not to represent in his gallery?
One also wonders why Mr. Robinson is so obsessed with trying to convince the court, and the public, that a single painting that he does not own, and has never sold, is fake. Is this not very strange indeed?
Starkly alone among the witnesses who appeared in court, (all of the others had no problem with recall before the judge), Donald Robinson displayed a repeated pattern of memory loss about people, and events, that raise troubling questions about his ability to act as a convincing expert on any number of levels.
How, after 10 years as Morrisseau’s chief distributor, representative, and top authority on Morrisseau fakes - his own evaluation - could he forget all that vast store of self-professed knowledge, and buy “fake Morrisseaus” - his words - repeatedly, not once, but no fewer than 28 times, totalling $53,238.73. How’s that, for a devastating and expensive memory loss?
---------"Ancestral Spirit with Evil Serpent", © 1977 Norval Morrisseau
~ Genuine Norval Morrisseau painting not given the recognition it deserved in the 'National Post' article: "Morrisseau fakes alleged" written by Murray Whyte; published 05/18/2001
NOTE: It is very strange that this painting supposedly labeled fake by Norval Morrisseau in 2001 was considered authentic by the artist as it was excluded from the "FAKE AND IMITATION" list of the Norval Morrisseau's sworn affidavit signed on April 24th, 2003? (click HERE & HERE). It is important to note that same painting was also proven authentic by Brian Lindblom, Forensic Document Examiner on January 24, 2002! (click HERE)
Donald Robinson told the judge he couldn’t remember having met key people; he couldn’t recall important conversations with notable people who, in sworn testimony, certainly had no problem remembering what he said on that occasion; he professed not to be able to remember important names, like Murray Whyte, the National Post reporter - or what exactly he told him, or whether he was misquoted - to whom he gave his celebrated “Milestone in Canadian Art” interview in 2001 - even though it’s the most important media interview he has ever given.
He can’t remember to whom he sold any of the 28 so-called "fake" Morrisseau paintings he bought, or if he ever told any of his customers that he bought 28 of the paintings he later declared "fake. " He can't even remember exactly what he did with each of those 28 “fakes” for which he was left holding the bag.
How, you can rightfully ask, can he possibly find his way home at night?
What credibility is there to testimonials about the provenance of art he sells if his memory and recall are so poor?
Mr. Robinson was further also asked by Ritchie Sinclair to testify on his behalf in Ritchie Sinclair's counter suit, but he failed to show up in court on the day he was to testify, and possibly risk being subjected to cross-examination.
That day, Ritchie Sinclair repeatedly apologized to the judge, bemoaning his lack of witnesses, claiming those he had invited were "too scared" and "too intimidated" to show up to make a court appearance on his behalf. Only his roommate Garth Cole testified for him in his counter suit.
6) In Dec. 2010 the RCMP announced that its long investigation into fakes and forgeries, which its officers say they were asked to launch by Donald Robinson, comes to a decisive and final end.
7) In Dec. 2010, Ritchie Sinclair’s obsessive witch-hunt is given another court based set-back when he is charged with harassing Mr. Joseph McLeod of Maslak McLeod Gallery, and a judge issues a restraining order against Ritchie Sinclair, ordering him to stay away from Mr. Joseph McLeod, and his place of business.
8) In Dec. 2010, as a condition of bail, Ritchie Sinclair is ordered by a judge to shut down his website "www.morrisseau.com". on which he has slandered hundreds of Morrisseau paintings and associated the names of countless decent Canadian fine art businessmen and women, with charges of fraud, forgery, and fakes. Ritchie Sinclair's blog at "http://norvalmorrisseaublog.blogspot.com" was also shut down by a court order for the same reason.
9) In Jan. 2011, in a related counter case, Ritchie Sinclair fails to prove to a court his suit against Joseph Otavnik for harassment after the latter took a variety of steps to undermine Ritchie Sinclair’s campaign to devalue Morrisseau paintings, even though the latter pleaded emotionally and fervently in court, telling the judge that he was being persecuted and sabotaged in his patriotic duty to root out fakes “for Norval Morrisseau” and “for Canada’s children.”
10) In Jan. 2011, Ritchie Sinclair & his expert witness, Donald Robinson of Kinsman Robinson Galleries, failed to get the judge to declare the Joseph Otavnik painting 'a fake'.