The red cross – five, red, equal-sized squares forming a cross, resting on a white background, is one of the most recognized emblems in the world. It is also, however, one of the most poorly understood. What does it really mean?
Origin of the emblem
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was born on a battlefield in 1859, in Solferino, Italy. Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, witnessed the aftermath of a grim battle that left 40,000 dead and wounded with few military or local medical services to help them. Horrified by what he saw, Dunant organized local villagers to care for the casualties. He ensured that victims from both sides of the conflict received water, food, and rudimentary medical attention. The impact of this experience changed Dunant's life.
Several years later, in 1863, Dunant and four other Swiss citizens organized an international conference which included delegates from fourteen countries. In addition to adopting resolutions providing for the establishment of relief societies for wounded soldiers – the future National Red Cross and later, Red Crescent Societies – the Conference delegates also adopted the red cross on a white background as a distinct symbol to identify medical personnel and their facilities.
Today, the red cross emblem continues to be an internationally recognized symbol of protection and neutrality; used to identify military medical services as well as the people, programs and objects connected with the humanitarian activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The red crescent and the red crystal are equivalent symbols to the red cross. The three emblems have the same status under international law and following the laws of their country, a National Society is able to use one of the three emblems to indicate their work. So you will see members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in other countries using either the red cross, red crescent or red crystal.
Restricted use of the emblem
No organization – except the Canadian Red Cross and the medical services of the armed forces has the right to use the red cross emblem in Canada. The red cross emblem must be readily recognized and respected around the world as a trusted symbol of protection and humanitarian aid. Its use is legislated by the Geneva Conventions Act, the Trade Marks Act and the Canadian Red Cross Society Act.
Further information can be found in the Canadian Red Cross Emblem Brochure.
To report misuse of the red cross emblem, please complete the online form.