The Red Cross and the Law

The Red Cross Emblem: Protected by Canadian and International Law

Governments in Canada and around the world recognize the importance of protecting the red cross emblem from misuse. Here is a short summary of relevant legislation in Canada.

Geneva Conventions Act

The Geneva Conventions Act incorporates into Canadian law the Geneva Conventions, which are the foundation for International Humanitarian Law (IHL). IHL strives to protect the rights of civilians and those taking no active part in hostilities during times of armed conflict.

The Geneva Conventions specifically prohibit the use of the red cross emblem by any organization, individual or corporation other than the following:

The Canadian Red Cross Society Act

The Government of Canada passed the Canadian Red Cross Society Act in 1909, conferring legal status on the Society.  The Act also supports the intention of the Geneva Conventions, and protects the red cross emblem in Canada.

Section 4(2) of the Act states that no one (individuals or corporations) can use the red cross emblem without the Society’s written permission. This extends to anything that could be mistaken for the red cross emblem, such as a burgundy cross, or a red cross that is slanted.

Section 4(1) expressly forbids any one (individuals or corporations) from using the red cross name or emblem to falsely claim that they are representing or working with the Red Cross for the purposes of soliciting, collecting or receiving money or material.

Trade-marks Act

The Trade-marks Act regulates trademarks in Canada. While the red cross emblem is not a registered trademark in Canada, it is protected by the Trade-marks Act. Section 9 of the Act lists ‘marks’ that are specifically prohibited from use in connection with business, either as a trade-mark or otherwise.  The list includes the red cross, red crescent, and the red crystal and extends to any mark likely to be mistaken for them.  Section 11 of the Act reinforces this prohibition.