Canada’s flag: Protecting our heritage

With its iconic red and white maple leaf design, the Canadian flag is one of the most recognizable symbols of our cultural heritage. It's shown off on decorative pins, on badges, on travellers' backpacks around the world. It's waved on Canada Day and raised on cottage decks, all with a source of immense pride. Although the design is relatively new (with quite an eventful history!), it's clear that the Canadian flag is worth protecting. Here's how trademarks and IP help us do so.

The maple leaf has been used as a Canadian symbol since at least the early 19th century. Many early versions of the flag included elements such as wreaths of maple leaves, crowns and beavers. Both before and after Confederation, in 1867, Canada used the United Kingdom's Royal Union Flag, commonly known as the Union Jack. The Union Jack was traditionally regarded as Canada's "official flag" until the early 20th century. As Canada blossomed as a nation, creating uniquely Canadian symbols to represent the country became more important. In the years following the Second World War, tension arose between the attachment to the Union Jack and the growing favour among the public for a new national flag. Because so many Canadians had fought and died under the Union Jack during the First and Second World Wars, there was a public divide over, and reluctance to, changing the flag.

When Lester B. Pearson was elected Prime Minister in 1963, he was determined to solve "the Flag Problem" in order for Canada to be seen as an independent, unified country. After a flag design proposed by Pearson himself was strongly opposed by Parliament, a parliamentary committee was created and given a 6-week deadline to submit a recommendation for a national flag. Thousands of flag designs were sent in by Canadians for the committee to consider. The debate was fiercely divided between committee members who wished to retain symbols that tied Canada to its colonial history and those who wanted Canada to adopt its own symbols for the future. This period was known as the Great Flag Debate.

One of the submissions considered was created by George Stanley and inspired by the flag of the Royal Military College, in Kingston, Ontario. Stanley's design featured a single, stylized red maple leaf on a white background with two red borders. After shortlisting three finalists, on October 22, 1964, the committee voted in favour of Stanley's design. Two months later, the House of Commons approved it, followed shortly after by the Senate. The new flag was made official by a proclamation signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on January 28, 1965. Finally, after years of trials and tribulations, Canada's bright new flag was raised for the very first time on Parliament Hill on February 15, 1965. On that same day in 1996, National Flag of Canada Day was declared.

With such an important symbol comes the responsibility to protect it. The Canadian flag is broadly protected under the Trademarks Act. This Act ensures that no person can adopt, use or apply to register, as a trademark or otherwise, "any mark consisting of, or something so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken for" the Canadian flag. Canada's new flag was first advertised in the Trademarks Journal on April 14, 1965, prohibiting the use of the flag to give a misleading impression of government patronage and the association of the flag with commercial use.

The Canadian flag symbolizes our shared heritage and values as citizens of Canada. This is why it is important to properly—and legally—protect the symbols that are important to us as Canadians.

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