Tories tussle with widow over use of party logo in asbestos ad campaign – by Andy Blatchford (The Canadian Press/Globe and Mail – August 14, 2011)

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The federal Conservative party has sent a threatening email to the widow of an asbestos victim in the latest chapter of Canada’s debate over the hazardous mineral. A top Tory official is warning the woman to stop using the party logo in an online ad campaign against the controversial industry — a campaign she started after her husband died of an asbestos-related cancer.

Michaela Keyserlingk, whose husband Robert died in 2009 of mesothelioma, has been running an online banner since the spring that reads, “Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!”

Conservative party executive director Dan Hilton warned Ms. Keyserlingk to stop using the Tory symbol immediately. “Failure to do so may result in further action,” Mr. Hilton wrote in a July 29 email which carried the subject title, “Unauthorized use of trademark.” The email, which The Canadian Press obtained from Ms. Keyserlingk, went on to advise her: “Please govern yourself accordingly.”

The exchange comes as Canada faces intensifying international criticism over its asbestos exports and the Quebec government mulls whether to help revive one of the country’s last-remaining mines — a decision that could come as early as Monday.

Canada, which barely uses the hazardous material domestically, exports the bulk of its asbestos to poor countries.

Industry proponents insist the material is safe if properly handled — but its critics stress that the product is used mainly in developing countries where safety standards are haphazard.

A growing chorus of health experts, and people like Ms. Keyserlingk, want to see the industry shuttered for good.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have steadfastly defended asbestos exports and insist they’re safe when handled properly.

Ms. Keyserlingk’s blurb, which she says appears randomly on Canadian web pages, is flanked with a “DANGER” warning label and an image of the Tories’ official symbol: a blue letter C with a Maple Leaf. It also directs readers to her website.

“I just want to have the asbestos trade stopped because it’s such a horrible death,” said ms. Keyserlingk, who doesn’t belong to any organization and pays more than $300 per month for the ad out of her pocket.

“It’s just so terrible — and to even contemplate doing that to other people is unforgivable.”

When asked about the ad, the Conservative party stood its ground.

“The Conservative logo is a trademark of the Conservative Party of Canada and we do not allow its unauthorized use,” party spokesman Fred DeLorey wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

Mr. Hilton did not respond to requests for an interview.

As for Ms. Keyserlingk, she isn’t ready to back down.

She said she’ll only cancel the ad if a high-ranking member of the Conservative party meets with her to explain why it supports the industry. She would be happy to take the issue up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself — in person.

“I have no permission to use (the logo) and they have a legitimate argument against me… But on a human level they have no legitimacy whatsoever,” the Ottawa resident said.

Ms. Keyserlingk didn’t show much concern when asked about the prospect of legal action against her.

“That would not be very bright of them to sue me,” she said. “What will they get out of me? It’s not as if there are millions sitting here.”

Ms. Keyserlingk said she has tried unsuccessfully for years to contact the Tories over this issue.

Before he died in December 2009, her husband also wrote letters to Conservative ministers and to Mr. Harper himself, demanding that he put an end to asbestos exports.

His widow said he received a response from the Prime Minister’s Office, which said Mr. Harper did not have time to answer his letter.

Coincidentally, Ms. Keyserlingk said her husband was the Progressive Conservative riding president in the 1970s for Ottawa-Centre — the riding around Parliament Hill.

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