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Preparing for Canada’s 150th Anniversary – What You Should Know About Using Canadian Symbols

September 16, 2016

By Jennifer McKenzie and Catherine Lovrics

2017 will mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation. The government of Canada has already started the countdown, and many businesses are preparing to join in the celebrations.

If your company is gearing up for this milestone, it is important to keep in mind the government’s rules for Canadian symbols, particularly for commercial use of the Canadian flag. 

The National Flag of Canada

Permission must be obtained from the government of Canada to use the national flag of Canada for commercial purposes. Requests for permission should be forwarded to the State Ceremonial and Canadian Symbols Department of Canadian Heritage, with a sketch of the intended use. The usual turnaround time for permission is 10 days (and often faster). 

Permission is most often granted. However, the government will deny a request if the flag is materially altered (for example, if the flag is written on, or the maple leaf is replaced with something else, with a typical example being a marijuana leaf). Likewise, permission will be denied if the flag is used in a way that leaves the impression that there is government endorsement. When permission is denied, the government will often suggest changes so that permission can be granted. 

The 11-point maple leaf

If you don’t want to seek government permission, the 11-point maple leaf can be used without permission, provided the use is in good taste. No rights can be acquired in, and you cannot attempt to prevent third parties from using the maple leaf.

Other Canadian symbols

Many other traditional Canadian symbols are in the public domain, for example, a beaver, a moose and a loon. Third party rights, though, should be taken into account before adopting these symbols. 

Also, care must be taken on whether the use of any of these Canadian symbols will create the general impression that the associated goods or services originate in Canada. There are strict compositional rules for making direct or implied “Made in Canada” and “Product of Canada” claims. The government agency regulating advertising has stated that Canadian symbols can be as powerful at making implied claims, as express ones.

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