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1995: Disney scores right to market Mountie products

He's a strong, brave, honest, horseback-riding Canadian in a red tunic who always gets his man. At least, that's the clichéd image of a Mountie. But with a history stretching back to 1873, the real Royal Canadian Mounted Police have always been more complex than their squeaky-clean, steely stereotype.

media clip
For years, the RCMP has expressed concern over the growing glut of low-quality merchandise and the companies that have been cashing in on its clean-cut image - including everything from porn stars to professional wrestlers. Now it's decided to do something about it. In June 1995, the force announces an unprecedented deal with Walt Disney. The agreement will give the California-based company exclusive control over who'll be allowed to use the Mountie image around the globe. This CBC Television clip looks at the RCMP's controversial bid to reign in what one newspaper called the "spread of red tunic schlock."
• The RCMP predicted that the five-year contract with Walt Disney Co. (Canada) Ltd., the Toronto-based branch of the U.S. conglomerate, would generate up to $100 million in new merchandising opportunities and $25 million in royalties for the force.

• CBC Television was among the first media outlets to report on the deal brokered by the Mounted Police Foundation, a registered charity that owned the rights to the Mountie image which included the distinctive Stetson hat and red serge tunic.

• As this clip reports, the Mounted Police Foundation did not put the contract to a public tendering process, instead it sought out Disney as the exclusive marketing licenser.

• "Disney was a logical fit," RCMP Public Affairs Constable Tim Cogan told the Globe and Mail. "They are compatible with the [clean, family] image the force has." The RCMP claimed the recognizable Mountie image was protected under RCMP Act and the Canadian Trademark Act.

• "There's a major cleanup out there we have to do," Cogan said. "The foundation has sent out cease-and-desist letters and we are talking to people who have been making RCMP merchandise in the past."

• At the time of the announcement, the RCMP was considering more than 40 offers to use its image. The force said it would not approve any liquor or tobacco-related products.

• In the years leading up to the 1995 decision, the RCMP took legal action against several high-profile uses of Mountie imagery.

• Labatt's was singled out for British television ads that featured "Malcolm the Mountie," a humourous character that sang to a moose puppet.

• The force also took issue with the US-based World Wrestling Federation, which boasted a popular villain named The Mountie. Dressed in the familiar RCMP uniform, the wrestler used a cattle prod as a weapon and had a featured move dubbed "The Mountie Mash."

• The Disney deal was widely criticized by the public and the media, who accused the RCMP of selling out to the squeaky clean Disney.

• Globe and Mail columnist Michael Valpy dubbed the partnership "Mounties 'R' Us" and called two of the board members of the Mounted Police Foundation "unreconstructed, loose-cannonball capitalists."

• "These people are image merchants," he wrote on July 6, 1995. "They run an organization whose mandate is to make money, tastefully, off of one of the country's most treasured symbols."

• On the same day, an intellectual property lawyer argued in the Globe that the RCMP may not have the legal right to license its image since it hadn't registered it as a trademark.

• The RCMP defended the move, saying that any funds generated would be used to pay for community policing that had been recently threatened by federal budget cuts.

• The first licensee under the new arrangement was a Vancouver clothing company, which marketed a line of clothing featuring stylized Mountie motifs by Montreal artist Marc Tetro.

• The week after the Disney deal, the RCMP announced it had signed a deal with Canadian Pacific Ltd. That would see the rail company promoted at its musical ride.

• In 2000, the Mounted Police Foundation announced it would not renew the Disney deal, and would instead license its image on its own.

Also on June 27:
1972: Superstar left winger Bobby Hull leaves the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks to join the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association. Hull's personal services contract was for $1 million dollars.
1986: Jean Drapeau announces he will not seek a ninth term as mayor of Montreal. During his career in office, he was responsible for bringing the city its subway system, Expo 67, major league baseball and the 1976 Olympics.
1989: Baseball history is made, as Toronto's Cito Gaston and Baltimore's Frank Robinson are the first black managers to oppose each other in a Major League Baseball game.

Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: June 27, 1995
Guest(s): Gary Gurmuk, Art Kraus, Ken MacLean, Jim Rayburn
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Jeffrey Kofman
Duration: 2:53

Last updated: October 18, 2012

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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