Bonhomme’s Bad Day


There has been considerable coverage this week about the Maclean’s magazine article on alleged corruption in Quebec.  The magazine’s cover (which can be seen here) depicts the well-known mascot of the Quebec City Winter Carnival, Bonhomme Carnaval, clutching a briefcase bursting with money.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article quickly elicited a loud hue and cry from politicians, both federal and provincial alike.  The resulting pressure was so intense that Maclean’s publisher – Rogers Publishing – felt compelled to issue an apology, noting that both the article and the cover image promoting it had clearly rankled some readers, and expressing regret for any offence caused.

In addition to being quite eye-catching (at least for Canadians), the cover raises an interesting trademark issue.   Specifically, the association of Bonhomme Carnaval with an article on corruption might be argued to lessen the goodwill in the mascot itself.  (To be clear, there is no suggestion in the article that Carnival organizers are corrupt.)

While the Carnival owns several trademark registrations for depictions of Bonhomme, it would be difficult to argue that Bonhomme’s image was being used as a trademark, or that anyone was confused as to the source of goods following the depiction of Bonhomme on the Maclean’s cover.

Though section 22 of the Trade-marks Act contemplates an action may be brought for depreciation of goodwill, it also appears that the tests associated with such a claim would be difficult to make out for similar reasons.

Nonetheless, the Carnival is seeking advice from counsel in order to determine what action, if any, it can take to protect Bonhomme. We’ll keep you posted on whether or not this dispute gets any more (ahem) …frosty.