Thursday November 26, 2015

Canadian retailer pulls 'stolen' sacred Inuit design from stores

Christopher Casuga, owner of Canadian retailer CNTRBND, says he is removing all items 'that insinuate negativity toward native people' from the sales floor and company website.

Christopher Casuga, owner of Canadian retailer CNTRBND, says he is removing all items 'that insinuate negativity toward native people' from the sales floor and company website. (CNTRBND/Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC (from book Northern Voices) )

Listen 5:25

Originally published: Nov. 26, 2015

Updated: Nov. 27, 2015. For latest on KTZ's apology go here

It's a sacred Inuit parka that has been copied and sold for big bucks by a European fashion label.

On Wednesday, As It Happens spoke to Salome Awa, the great-granddaughter of the shaman who designed the parka. She says the fashion company KTZ stole the design without her family's permission.

screenshot of CNTRBND website

Screenshot of the removed KTZ sweater advertisement on the CNTRBND online shop and website. (cntrbndshop.com)


After our interview aired, we learned of a Canadian retailer that sells the KTZ sweater. The company is called CNTRBND and has stores in Toronto and Vancouver. They were selling the garment for $925 CDN. 

Owner Christopher Casuga says he was personally offended when he saw the story. On Thursday, Casuga pulled the sweater from his sales floor and removed it from the company's website.

He says he didn't want to sell "anything that insinuates negativity toward native people. We want to make sure we are representing Canada in the best way possible."

On Friday, KTZ issued an apology to Awa. You can read the letter here

The story has elicited a huge reaction on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

AIH facebook

(Facebook)


AIH facebook comments

(Facebook)








Many listeners debated what, if any, legal action Awa and her family may be able to take against KTZ and the designer.

"This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened and it's really frustrating that it continues to happen," Teresa Scassa tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

Scassa is an intellectual property expert and professor of law at the University of Ottawa. Although she sympathizes with Awa, Scassa says her family has very little legal protection against the label.

Teresa Scassa

Teresa Scassa is an intellectual property expert at the University of Ottawa. (University of Ottawa)

Scassa explains that in Canada, copyright is protected for the life of the author plus an additional 50 years. Depending on when Awa's great-grandfather passed away, the original design may not have fallen into public domain. But either way, Scassa says the case will be difficult.

"This is not the kind of thing that Canadian law has really recognized in the past," Scassa says. "The protection for indigenous cultural property and traditional knowledge is fairly weak in Canada."

Scassa points to other countries like New Zealand and Australia that have made some progress. She acknowledges the Cowichan First Nations sweater trademark case as one example within Canada but says there are few domestic precedents.

"It's a bit of an uphill battle," says Scassa.

KTZ fashion label copies Inuit design

(Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC (from book Northern Voices) /Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)


"It's time for the Canadian government, particularly in this new era of reconciliation which we find ourselves in, to be thinking about ways in which Canadian law can do better to protect indigenous cultural property."

Scassa is encouraged to see the swell of support for Awa's story online. She says that public shaming can be a powerful force but that ultimately it is likely to fall short in creating any enduring change.

"Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have a lasting effect because these kinds of things seem to continue to keep happening," Scassa says.