Tories stifle widow through IP laws, twirl moustaches, cackle

The Conservative party picks an ill-advisded fight against a sympathetic anti-asbetos crusader

Robert Keyserlingk was a lifelong Tory who died horribly in 2009 from mesothelioma, a cancer typically caused by asbestos exposure. Keyserlingk had regular contact with asbestos in his youth while working summer jobs on Canadian naval ships.

Before his death, he crusaded against Canada’s government-supported asbestos industry, and his wife Michaela has carried on the cause since. Every month, she pays $300 to run this banner ad on websites, which links to her own anti-asbestos website:

The Conservative Party is now threatening to sue her for trademark infringement.

Her use of their logo was, of course, unauthorized. It might be argued that she was using it as a form of political speech, to ironically juxtapose the party’s proud symbol with an aspect of their policy many find shameful. Or it might be argued that she was willfully confusing the public into believing her message was endorsed by the Conservatives (a misconception quickly corrected when readers click through to find a scathing critique of the Tories).

Either way, one thing is for sure: Conservative party executive director Dan Hilton’s knee-jerk response of firing off a cease-and-desist email with cuddly threats of “further action” if Mrs. Keyserlingk fails to “govern herself accordingly” and nix the logo, cast him and his party in a particularly fiendish light, and ensured widespread attention to her cause.

Legacy organizations are used to fiercely protecting their intellectual property against any possible infringement. But aggressively litigious tactics developed by Disney to safeguard against bootleg mouse ear manufacturers won’t work in every modern, digital context.

Like, say, if you’re not a private company but a ruling political party, and the alleged IP infringer isn’t a rival business but a recently bereaved widow with a sympathetic story and a legitimate cause.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown




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Tories stifle widow through IP laws, twirl moustaches, cackle

  1. Oilcan Harry Harper against widows and orphans.

    Nice goin’, guys.

  2. Politics 101:  No matter how correct you may be legally, or how technically wrong your opponent, NEVER MESS WITH WIDOWS OR ORPHANS (or puppies, mind you).

    I would think that this is doubly true when the widow in question is aligned against the ASBESTOS INDUSTRY.

    I understand why the Tories feel it’s politically necessary to support the asbestos industry, but I can’t believe they want to be out there talking about it (and in fact, their desire to remove their logo from the ad suggest they’d really prefer that NO ONE make a mental connection between them and the asbestos industry – well, no one outside of Asbestos, Quebec that is…) but now not only are they having to talk about it, they’re having to talk about it defensively.

    Did not a single person realize that threatening to sue her was pointless?  After all, if there’s one thing that would be worse for a political party than threatening to sue a widow who’s fighting the asbestos industry, it would be actually suing a widow who’s fighting the asbestos industry!  Worse even than that would be winning the suit!  You should never threaten to sue someone if successfully suing them would hurt you more than it hurts them.

    • BINGO!

      In fact it’s so idiotic you have to wonder if their relative success in using the courts to stifle debate and bury issues they don’t want to talk about has gone to their head and choked off the oxygen supply to their brains.

      I mean really.

  3. What does Chuck Strahl have to say about all of this?

  4. What do you recommend the Tories have done? Ignored it and hope no one takes notice of her campaign? That’s certainly an option, as she probably wouldn’t have garnered as much attention if they had gone down that path. I guess the Tories knew it was a risk to send her such a letter, but decided it was worth the risk.

    • Perhaps alter their stand on asbestos?

      • Why should they alter their stand on this kind of asbestos when it is a completely different type than the one that caused asbestosis and when handled properly is safe (see Phil King below). 

        • Safe when handled properly?  You seem to have missed the whole story here.  Harper has refused to have the asbestos we export - to third world countries –  labelled with a warning about the proper usage.  All for a few votes in Quebec.

          • I edited my comment, Jan after reflecting more on the situation. You are correct. Any substance that pose a risk should be properly labelled as hazardous. I really find it funny that the most carcinogenic substance of all – cigarettes is still on the market.

  5. Just take the logo off and put up a Harper quote about how much he supports the export of this carcinogen.

  6. I’m the last guy on this planet who wants to defend the CPC, and their handling of this situation is clearly atrocious, but to be fair, we don’t export any of the types of asbestos in the amphiboles group anymore, and these are the types that have caused all the problems.

    In fact the only type of asbestos we produce is chrysotile asbestos, and it’s used mainly in the concrete construction of large office buildings. It makes the buildings far more energy efficient and there’s essentially no risk involved to anyone using it because it’s both safer than the amphiboles group and because it’s locked in the concrete in pre-formed blocks.

    So while we should clearly maintain controlled use standards like we would with any substance carrying some degree of risk, we certainly shouldn’t be banning its use anymore than we would ban the use of mercury, uranium or any other potentially dangerous substance that has important uses.

    The problem here is a lack of education. People simply aren’t cognizant of the fact that this isn’t your granddaddy’s asbestos: it isn’t sprayed into the air as insulation anymore, or used in open drum brakes in the forest industry where the fibres are allowed to cloud the air with deadly amphiboles fibres. It’s now used in a controlled fashion that benefits society and people need to come to grips with that.

    Enough with the hysteria already.

    • Phil, are you forgetting that the Tories have a creationist as a science minister….they have no credibility when it comes to science.  At least that is what everyone would have you believe.  Yet the hypocrisy is so evident in a situation such as this one where those people who would denounce the conservative government use half truths and myth to frighten people.   I applaud you for trying to sift thru the misinformation.

      • Yeah India is the world’s largest importer of asbestos, the problem being that they’re not terribly picky about the types they use or who’s supplying it.

        For the record I support the Rotterdam Convention on the basis that it would pressure countries like India to seek their asbestos from sources that will use proper controlled-use procedures to protect human health.

        It would also make Canadian firms one of the go-to expert groups for such handling.

        You wouldn’t sell uranium willy-nilly around the world and buy it from just anyone, and the same should go for asbestos.

        • I think we’re more in agreement than not.  The problem is less about CAN it be used safely, the problem is IS it being used safely by those we export it to?  And some may argue that we have no responsibility to make sure that  others protect THEIR citizens, but I think that argument is mitigated when we’re basically the main reason that none of this stuff is labelled as dangerous in the first place.

          Ordinarily I might argue that we’re not responsible if Indians die from exposure to the asbestos that we sold them, but given that we’re the driving force behind making sure that no one is obligated to label the asbestos we sell them as dangerous, I think maybe we are a bit responsible.

    • Isn’t it almost NEVER used in Canada for these purposes?

      Isn’t the whole reason there’s an EXPORT market that we’re exporting it to countries that can’t afford to privilege “safe” over “cheap” and are precisely the types of countries where “proper handling of dangerous materials” takes a back seat to “building infrastructure fast and cheap”.

      My understanding is that this industry is basically a 100% export industry, and there’s a reason for that.

      • Not true at all. Engineering firms the world over, including Canadian ones, use pre-formed concrete blocks and other high density structures that contain chrysotile all the time because of their energy efficient characteristics.

        I’ll see if I can find an explicit mention in an article somewhere.

        • Do we actually make the (now safe) concrete blocks and export THOSE though, or do we export the raw materials to poor and developing countries and let THEM do the dangerous work of turning the raw material into a more useful and safer material?

    • According to the article Jan links to below, the World Health Organization says that ALL forms of asbestos are carcinogenic.  They also estimate that one person dies from an asbestos-related illness every five minutes (that WHO page also contains the paragraph: “All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans, and may cause
      mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. Asbestos exposure
      is also responsible for other diseases, such as asbestosis (fibrosis of
      the lungs), pleural plaques, thickening and effusions” – emphasis added).

      • Spot on, it is deadly, marginally less deadly than the other but still deadly. And the only reason that the world, including the #1 producer, didn’t get to label it as dangerous is because the Harper Party (rulers of the #2 producer) wouldn’t allow it to happen.

      • Yes, but according to the WHO’s Group of Experts the controlled-use of chrysotile allows the continued use of chrysotile in high-density products, provided permissible exposure limits of 1.0 f/cc or below are respected, since at this exposure limit no health risks are detected.

        You, like many others, seem to confuse the difference between past admissible uses of amphobiles with the current controlled-use of the chrysotile type of asbestos or the continued unethical exportation of dangerous amphobile types by other nations that Canada itself DOES NOT export.

        And for the record I support the Rotterdam Convention that would list asbestos as a dangerous substance so that developing nations are fully aware of the risks, since many other nations still export asbestos types from the amphobile group.

        So in that regard I disagree with current government policy, since just like uranium or the many dozens of chemicals used in the formation of plastics, some substances need to be used in a controlled manner to protect human health and/or the environment.

  7. If the party really persists, she could replace the logo with Harper’s face.

  8. http://www.sooeys.com/?p=3690 

    Sooey says :
    “The good widow taking our government to task for exporting asbestos to the third world – without warning labels on the bags of death dust – should just tell the bastards threatening to sue her (over using the Conservative Party of Canada logo on her petition) that she saw it on those cheques the Harper Government was handing out on behalf of taxpayers and assumed it belonged to all Canadians.”

  9. I’ll go along with her protest as long she puts a Lieberal logo on the banner………

  10. Streisand Effect!

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