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Censorship Your Rights Online

Canadian Government Controls Online Flag Displays 124

SiliconEntity writes: "According to this article from Matt Gaylor's Freematt's Alerts mailing list, the Canadian Government has trademarked the Canadian Flag and has the power to force Canadian citizens to remove the image from their web sites. The claim is made by one Jan Ovens,, of the Federal Identity Program, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. The site in question, a Canadian smokers' rights group, was forced to remove their image of the flag after Mr. Ovens contacted them. Ovens claims that the flag is a registered trademark of the Government of Canada and writes: 'The flag symbol is a global identifier of the Government of Canada. It is used to identify federal institutions and is protected under the Trademarks Act (Section 9 (1)(n)(iii) of the Act). The flag symbol was approved and entered as an official mark of the Government of Canada on the Trademarks Register held by the Canadian Trademarks Office, which is part of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office at Industry Canada, on 30 September 1987.' Are any other countries claiming the power to stop their citizens from showing the flag?"
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Canadian Government Controls Online Flag Displays

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  • How can a country control something outside of their borders? Isn't this the reverse of "if it's on the net, it's in my country and subject to my laws?"

    If I display your flag upside-down, backwards, inverted with hot green and fuscia colors, what does it matter if it is outside of your country?

    What about if I say it is "art"?

    • They're not controlling anything outside their borders. The entire issue is about controlling Canadians' use of the trademark.

      That being said, the US is imposing sanctions against the Ukrane for not having the same law, so maybe that will directly answer your question, even if it's not relevant to the topic.

      • #$%#$

        'for not having the same laws as the US on copyright'

        Last time I post first thing in the afternoon, I'm too damned tired...

      • the US is imposing sanctions against the Ukrane for not having the same law

        That's actually a better approach than the usual one taken these days. France had no legal standing in demanding Yahoo edit auctions worldwide so that they conformed with French law, nor did the MPAA with Johansen or the US with Dmitri or a dozen other examples. The business with Ukraine is more like "We don't like your laws so we're not going to trade with you until you change them". It's not particularly nice, but it's not as bad as "We don't like your laws so you'd better change them or we'll start arresting your citizens as terrorists".

  • The people (Score:2, Insightful)

    If a coutries flag - a symbol if its identity - isn't owned by the people then nothing is.

    If I was a Canadian citizen I would be annoyed right now and if I was in the Canadian government I would be v.worried about keeping my job come the next election.
  • Which Symbol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by linuxbert ( 78156 )
    The Canadian Gov has a identifying mark whic is the word Canada with a cnaadian flag flying from the d, over the letter a. This Idnetifies gov departments and should not be used by others.

    The Candian Flag however should be free for all citizens to use in a respectfull manner.
  • I'm suing you for $10 to replace it, and $100,000 for the medical bills from literally laughing my ass off
  • by Evro ( 18923 ) <> on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:39PM (#2872713) Homepage Journal
    I don't know if Canadian trademark is the same as US, but in the US I don't think you can selectively uphold your trademark. You have to fight every instance of trademark infringement or the mark becomes diluted and you lose it. If Canadian trademark works the same way then I don't see how they can possibly uphold this. There must be thousands, if not millions, of Canadian citizens using the Canadian flag in some way or another without the government's authorization, and unless they intend to go after them all, I just don't see how this can work. But this is all contingent on Canadian © law working like US, so maybe it's completely wrong.
    • It's not about selectively upholding a trademark. The Canadian flag isn't a trademark of the Government by the law -- it's a symbol which *other businesses* aren't allowed to incorporate into their trademarks.

      It's easy to uphold, because it's not about "Trademark Law", it's about "The specific statute about using Government symbols in private businesses' trademarks".

      (IANAL, eh?)
    • In Canada, the government does as it damn well pleases. Who will oppose it?
  • by tregoweth ( 13591 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:54PM (#2872792)
    ...but I wish the U.S. did the same thing with its flag, if only to reduce the flow of cheesy "patriotic" items that have appeared since September 11. Profiting from tragedy is always ugly.

    But anyway, if the U.S. or Canadian government got a royalty for every commercial use of its flag, it would have made a fortune. Canada can get a cut of the Maple Leafs' merchandise profits, the U.S. can get a cut of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren's profits...
    • ...but I wish the U.S. did the same thing with its flag, if only to reduce the flow of cheesy patriotic" items that have appeared since September 11. Profiting from tragedy is always ugly.

      Personally as a U.S. citizen I would much rather live with cheesy flag displays than have our government put yet another idiotic law on the books. Sure you are making light of the situation but do you really want another law too? There are way too many at this point in time. Way make more for worthless causes.
      • After seeing those "Thanks for Traveling" signs at hotels on my way back to school, I began to wonder if those were legal. Turns out we already have a law, the U.S. Flag Code [] which states

        (g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

        Now, the Flag Code is an interesting piece of legislature, at the top of the link above it talks about the lack of penalties included, and how other, stronger, legislation has been struck down. The article also states

        The Flag Code may be fairly tested: 'No disrespect should be shown to the Flag of the United States of America.' Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.

        We all know that those signs are marketing for the hotels as much they are promoting "Unity" and that jazz. Is that disrespect?
        • We all know that those signs are marketing for the hotels as much they are promoting "Unity" and that jazz. Is that disrespect?

          Yeah, probably, but when's the last time you heard of someone getting arrested for "disrespecting the flag." If these laws were truly enforced, they never would have considered that legislation a year or so back to ban burning flags specifically.

          If the U.S. Government ever charged an individual or corporation with anything so broad as "disrespecting the flag," civil rights groups would be there with a court case prepared in ten seconds or less. I mean, this is America. That's how it works.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          The flag desecration law only applies in the District of Columbia because the constitution gives congress the power "To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District". (Article 1, Section 8)

          US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 3:

          Use of flag for advertising purposes; mutilation of flag

          Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or display, shall place or cause to be placed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America; or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign upon which shall have been printed, painted, or otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature; or who, within the District of Columbia, shall manufacture, sell, expose for sale, or to public view, or give away or have in possession for sale, or to be given away or for use for any purpose, any article or substance being an article of merchandise, or a receptacle for merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court. The words 'flag, standard, colors, or ensign', as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Kudos! If I see another plastic US flag in the window, on the bumper, duct-taped to windshield, etc., on a cheezy white-trash car I'm gona scream!

      Taurus owners are the worst offenders...
  • by Sentry21 ( 8183 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @05:49PM (#2873532) Journal
    Just to quote that particular section of law...

    Prohibited marks
    9. (1) No person shall adopt in connection with a business, as a trade-mark or otherwise, any mark consisting of, or so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken for,

    (n) any badge, crest, emblem or mark
    (i) adopted or used by any of Her Majesty's Forces as defined in the National Defence Act,
    (ii) of any university, or
    (iii) adopted and used by any public authority, in Canada as an official mark for wares or services,

    in respect of which the Registrar has, at the request of Her Majesty or of the university or public authority, as the case may be, given public notice of its adoption and use;

    I can't find the bit about enforcement, but I would assume that lack of enforcement equals acceptance until it is enforced.

    • That quote meshes with my prior understanding of the law, which has nothing to do with whether or not you can personally use the flag, and everything to do with whether or not you can use the flag as part of your own trademark.

      (ObGreatWhiteNorth, eh: This particular instance aside, does it really seem odd to Americans that a government has control over how you can use its flag? I know there's this whole life-liberty-and-pursuit-of-happiness vs peace-order-and-good-government difference between the US and Canada, but I'm surprised that it seems shocking that a government controls use of its flag.)
      • Keep in mind that, in this instance, the flag's use is on a pro-cancer (smoker's rights) website, and that's a distinctly partisan topic. The government wants to make absolutely certain that it is in no way affiliated with this kind of issue.

        Which I think is a good thing, since it's a stupid issue.

        Anyway, the law, as my reading goes, says that the emblems of the government (flags and whatnot) are trademarked, and not usable, just like I couldn't arbitrarily throw IBM and Lucent logos on my pages or products.

        I could use a logo to refer to them (that's fair use) but not to refer to me (that's trademark infringement).

        • Does the flag belong to the government, or the people of the country?

          Par for the course for Canada - "the country is your corrupt socialist government. Dissent against the government is dissent against the country."

          I believe wholeheartedly that Canada's government would disallow use of the flag. It's a country without free speech rights that fears political speech that opposes the cabal that makes up its dictatorship.
          • The issue is not to whom the flag belongs, the issue is misrepresentation. The government wants to prevent anyone from mistaking this website for a government-sponsored or -condoned website.

            Besides, your argument is somewhat flawed. For example, the passport office is owned by citizens. Does this mean I should be able to dictate to the Passport Office? If so, I'm going to get myself a diplomatic passport. Likewise Petro-Canada. I don't think I should have to pay for my petrol.

            • Passports are issued by governments, not countries, so that shoots that point down.

              And BTW if as you say the flag represents the government and not the country, that says something a little disturbing. I will burn my flag tonight, cause it represents Jean Chretien and not the country in which I was born.

              You don't see people misconstruing the "Patriot/Militia" type web pages out there as being condoned by the US gov't cause there's US flags on those, do you? Nobody in his right mind thinks that the Waco types who fly the flag are condoned by the US government, do you? Get a grip. The moment I need Jean Chretien's permission to fly a Canadian flag is the day I burn it. So off to the pyre tonight it goes.
          • You have some verbal diharrea problems here. The flag trademark in question is for the flag accompanied by the words "Government of Canada" in French and English, making up the logo for the Government of Canada. The flag itself is not listed afaics and use of a company or governments representation symbols (trademarks) is illegal in the "free" US of A as well.

            If you don't like canadian views on things like the "freedom" to own child pornography or the "freedom" to incite hate against other groups for whatever reason, stay away.
            • Absolutely wrong, and don't talk to me about verbal diarrhoea until you've done your homework.

              Here's the site before the flag was pulled I don't see any Canada with a flag over the a which would be a trademark of the government. I do however see two Canadian flags, which were removed at the request of the government.

              And I stand by my initial statement that the flag proper should stand for the country, not Jean Chretien.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I'm no lawyer but...

      Exactly what 'Trade' is the government in?

      Notice that the trade mark legislation quoted above refers to connection with a business.

      Perhaps the Canadian government (like many western countries) is in the business of trying to attract only the wealthiest, most talented immigrants, and trying to prevent its citizens from moving to other countries so that it can collect their taxes. But somehow, all that doesn't strike me as a real business, in the legal sense. Do they invoice those activities?
  • Well, probably moderators who smoke are going to lower my karma for this, but...

    I think Canada's government may know the economic impact of smoking, not only healthy-wise but also related to lower production (smoke-breaks, more time sick, etc etc).

    They probably wanted to do some pressure against this pro-smoke site. The only legal way they had was this.

    And also, by using a flag, the smokers could lead some [stupid] people to think the official position of the government was being pro-smoker. Anyway, a flag gives a more "official" look on the site.
    • I think that you make a good point. I hate it when people grumble and complain about rights, but don't give others the right to do what they are in charge of.

      They have an image to protect, and need to put pressure on problem causing societies.
    • Canada's government may know the economic impact of smoking, not only healthy-wise but also related to lower production...
      What about the enormous savings in pensions payouts? This is especially true in countries that don't have a comprehensive welfare system.
    • I won't question that for a minute.

      On the other hand, so does slashdot....
  • Will Canadian Websites switch to the red Canadabis Leaf flag? []
  • Oh well.. I guess I'll have to declare a "Burn all canadian-flag-GIFs day". Why does this strike me as an incredibly stupid move from TBS ? I thought the flag was supposed to be an icon of pride, not shame.
    • What are you to be proud of? A 60c dollar? Your tax dollars going to art projects involving Mexicans doing unpleasant things to test tubes? Shovelgate? The golf course in Shawinigan? The HRDC?

      The Liberals paradoxically enough wanted flags everywhere to try and raise national pride a la Nike Swoosh. Seems that if you want to use it to oppose the government, in comes the law. Interesting message, though - "the flag is the property of the government. Not you. Now shut up, and work harder. I've got more taxes I want to shove your way."
  • There is a symbol that the canadian government uses to signify a government building/web page/document etc. ( Were they using this, or just the flag? If they were using the symbol, then I think this was reasonable.
  • They say at the site

    "We do not in any way represent the Canadian Government, any of its Departments, nor official policies. The contents of this website are solely the efforts and expressions of a volunteer, grassroots Chapter of FORCES International"

    So what do they need the flag for anyway?
  • I have trademarked the flag of Libya [] and will sue everyone using the flag, and everyone using parts of the flag, and everyone using parts of the flag together with an alpha channel, and...
  • If the flag is the trademark of the government, do I have to pay some "royalties" if I got the international country sticker on my car?

    oh! err... fck! I already do
    life's not fair.
  • Can't someone submit "prior use"? ;-)

    Flag info []

    "The maple leaf flag was raised for the first time at noon, February 15, 1965 during special ceremonies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa."
  • Trademark record (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Here is the trademark [] database record the article is refering to. The trademark consists of the flag plus some text beside it, not just the flag.
    • People need to read the information; thanks for that link.

      The Government of Canada symbol is the flag with "Government of Canada" written in English and French next to it. This is trademarked, the generic canadian flag is not, afaics.

      If in fact the smokers' rights group used the Government of Canada logo on their page without permission and/or proper recognition of its status, they would be misleading people.
  • I worked for the Canadian Govt - the federal identity program is made to give the Canadian Govt one common look, and one this includes the web sites.. I think they are referring to the use of the flag as it is shown on all their sites.. I think the problem is that it may have resembled a govt site.. (fyi - There is a LOT of rules there, I dont think anyone here is worried about their freedom)
    • Ms. Jan Ovens, to which I have directly asked what were the rules, was unable to say. Her demand was to remove all flags from the website. In addition, I have provided links to her on various websites which display the canadian flag, and again she was not able to say which were legal, and which weren't. Her remarks were the restating of Section 9 of the trademark act, and Article 6ter of the Paris Convention for the protection of industrial property. She did say that the "Canadian Flag was THE global identifier of the Government of Canada". I have asked her what was the global identifer of the citizens of Canada, and again she was unable to say. Transcript of messages to Ms. Jan Ovens, Federal Identity Directorate. [] I think if you will view the screenshot, you will notice this does not bare any resemblence to a Government site. []
  • I can't find the Canadian Flag (standalone) registered anywhere in the CIPO [] Trademark Registry database.

    Searches using "Canada" and "Flag" or "Government" and "Canada" bring up a variety of "Flag and words" Trademarks (i.e. left 2/3's of the flag, followed by the words "Government of Canada / Gouvernment du Canada"), but no standalone flag.

    Could this just be a government official being a bit presumptious and pushy?

  • by edack ( 152979 )
    Up until recently the govenment of India refused to allow ordinary citizens to fly the Indian flag.
  • I think the problem the Canadian Government had with this website, wasn't the use of the image of the Canadian Flag -- but with a particular style of Canadian Flag.

    "The flag symbol is a global identifier of the Government of Canada. "

    If you look on any government site, those two little red bars, with a maple leaf in the middle -- no background, no drop shadow, two color (as in is the base logo of all our government agencies.

    I bet were the FORCES site to post a stylized Maple leaf or some gaudy animated gif of a waving Canadian flag -- the feds wouldn't care.

    I don't think my government is saying nobody can use a maple leaf -- just not that particular style.

    • Actually Ms. Ovens stated the stylized maple leaf was also a protected symbol.
      Dear Mr. Hanley, first of all I would like to thank you for the interesting pictures you provided which display the Canadian flag symbol in various formats on commercial products. As mentioned in our recent conversation about the trade-mark infringement evidence on the Forces Canada Internet site, notices are provided in cases where trade-mark infringements are confirmed. I have contacted Pat Hagen in this regard. Concerning the particulars discussed, the flag symbol of the Government of Canada is registered under Sections 9(1)(n)(e) and 9(1)(n)(iii) of the Trade-marks Act.
      The Maple Leaf design is registered under Section 9 (1)(i). A registered trade-mark gives exclusive right to use the mark across Canada
  • I totally disagree that the Canadian government should have exclusive rights to the Maple Leaf Flag; if they do own the trademark they certainly only enfroce it rarely (and then only for commercial use []). Marks the government actively protects involve the flag, but also involve other things [] such as a stylised "Government of Canada" script or departmental names in that script. In any event, it would be in their best interests to make the flag freely available since it is one of the few unifying sybols of such a diverse and regionalised country, and the more it is used the more Canadians will feel part of Canada and not swallowed up by the USA. Considering the goverment had a fairly successful program [] promoting and giving away the Maple Leaf flag freely [] (real flags and graphics), I'd say they agree.

    That being said, it appears that the site in question [] is still using a Maple Leaf Flag with the "Health Canada" department name beside it, in a script and style very similar to that actually used by Health Canada. The federal government is within their rights to go after a pro-smoking group that is displaying the Health Canada [] department logo in any manner.
  • The site in question, a Canadian smokers' rights group, was forced to remove their image of the flag after Mr. Ovens contacted them.

    The Ministry of Health is at all out war [] with the Tobacco industry up here. You see it in posters, on TV, over the radio and on the Health Canada website. The site in question is run by their opponents.

    My guess is FARCES[1], oops er, FORCES overstepped the boundaries of parody and deservedly got bitchslapped for it, not unlike another group [] that tried to emulate a Goverment site [].

    [1] I'm not a fan of Big Tobacco.

  • The Canadian Flag (the one at hockey games, for example) is fine. Throw it all over the website if you want.

    The Government of Canada LOGOS are trademarks, like the McDonalds arches or any number of stylized symbols. MLB (American League) and the NFL also have "stars & stripes" logos, all protected. If some readers are confused, see the links:
    Canada's flag (ok to use): ag big.jpg
    Trademarked Government Logo, examples:
    The GC site has two examples of the trademarked logos:
    1) Flag and text, in Canada's official font. The flag alone is fine, don't imitate the flag and text/font.
    2)Canada logo with small flag above last "a". Again, the flag component is fine, but don't imitate the trademark.
  • Part of the problem is terminology used in the issue. The Government of Canada refers to a "flag symbol" which is NOT simply the flag alone.
    The site refers simply to the "flag", but they really mean "flag symbol".

    The site had an imitation of Health Canada's official, trademarked logo, in the form of:
    Canada flag image/Health Canada (english, french in the modified Garramond font).

    The font is also copy-protected, by the way; printers who have it to create GC documents cannot use it for any other purpose (it's convered by a SW license).
  • I beleive here in Australia it is actually illegal to fly either a state or the national flag unless youre part of the government... not that anyone takes notice of the government, they have to be identified somehow
  • Damn, I guess I'll have to remove the Canadian flag from my homepage.
  • A reporter for the National Post finally got the Federal Identity Program to delineate [] the difference between a flag and a flag symbol.

    In the article federal spokesman Shawn Dearn stated "The flag symbol is two red stripes (or black if printed on a black-and-white printer) with an 11-point maple leaf centred between the stripes, The national flag, on the other hand, is two red stripes with a white square containing an 11-point red maple leaf in the centre. The difference arises only when the two are printed on non-white paper, or when words are placed next to the flag"

    From the screenshot [] We can see that the flag is on a red background, which if it was a flag symbol, then the area around the maple leaf would be the lighter shade of red as the background.

    This leads us to ask why did the cease and desist [] notice claim the image was a flag symbol? Can't the government employee charged with enforcement tell the difference?

    From the cease and desist notice we see that there is no mention of the proximity of the flag and the page title. The issue at that point is the flag image.

    Now the federal government changes it's story...

    Ok, So you say it must be the text next to the flag. On the what's new page for the site... as taken from Google Cache [], we can see the flag is in the left margin, and the text is centered. The text is not next to the flag and the goverment maintained it was also an infringement. And again, the background is red, so the image is a flag and not a flag symbol.

    Doesn't hold water either. It's not a flag symbol and the placement of the text doesn't matter. The question remains... why was this site singled out? Is this what is possibly in store for anybody who becomes vocal about governmental policy?

    Worse still is the fact that representatives of the government of Canada are making fraudulent claims of trademark infringement based on the fact that the government has chosen a logo, that can't be easily distinguished from a Canadian flag. So for all practicle purposes, the government has the exclusive rights to the display of the Canadian flag.

    It is my contention that it is the government of Canada, which their flag look-a-like logo and their claim to exclusive rights to such, that are infringing on the trademark of the people of Canada, and the government of Canada should immediately cease and desist all use of this image.

Machines certainly can solve problems, store information, correlate, and play games -- but not with pleasure. -- Leo Rosten