BARBARA WICKENS October 16 1995


BARBARA WICKENS October 16 1995


Avoiding questions

Nothing is free of political overtones in pre-referendum Quebec. It seemed a nice gesture when pop singer Céline Dion chose to launch a European mega-tour with a six-night stand in Quebec City as a tribute to the city’s role as the French-language capital of North America. Dion is a Quebecer with a huge international following. Her 1993 album, The Colour of My Love, has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and her 50-show tour is already sold

Leaving an aftertaste

Russians have become used to seeing double when it comes to Smirnoff vodka. On one side of a bitter legal fight for the right to sell the drink under the Smirnoff name is Farmington, Conn.-based giant Heublein Inc. In the other corner is a small Russian distillery that descendants of the 19th-century Russian vodka baron, Pyotr Smirnoff, founded in 1991. It challenges

out. But at a news conference that Sony Canada arranged to honor Dion for those achievements, Quebec politics soon took over.

Reporters recalled a comment of hers in 1992, when she said that Canada should “definitely” stay together. In the ensuing ¡¿fuss, she had quickly ÎË backed away from that po§ sition, insisting she was I first and foremost a Quell becer, and pledged never S again to talk politics. Last ! week, the media zeroed in ; on an adulterated version of one of her French-language hits, Pour que tu m’aimes encore (So you’ll still love me), now playing on a Montreal radio station, in which an unidentified singer with a voice like Dion’s praises Canada. When a reporter wanted to know if the new version in fact reflected her sentiments, Dion’s husband/manager, René Angeld, cut in, saying: “We’re not here to discuss politics.” But the subject came up again, and Angeld abruptly ended the news conference. On Oct. 30, it seems, Quebecers will have to cast their votes without the benefit of Céline Dion’s guidance.

Heublein’s claim to have bought exclusive rights to the Smirnoff name from a Russian émigré in 1939. The stakes in their battle are huge: Heublein supplies 14 million litres of the billion litres of vodka that Russians down annually. Last month, the Russian Patent Office ruled that the Moscow-based

0 Smirnoffs beat Heublein to the 2 punch by registering the family 2 name in 1991. And a circuit court Í in southern Russia has awarded

1 rights to the famed name to the family group led by Boris Smirnoff, a great-great grandson of the original distiller. At a victory celebration, Smirnoff announced plans to expand production by introducing new brands based on 287 family-held recipes. Still, the legal rulings apply only in Russia, leaving Heublein free to market Smirnoff vodka in the rest of the world. And the huge international concern is already moving to salve its vodka headache, by appealing the decisions to the Russian Supreme Court.

A virtual country

Although voters will not decide the outcome of the Quebec referendum until Oct. 30, it appears in cyberspace as if the sovereigntists have already won. The Quebec government has set up a site on the World Wide Web ( It includes an innocuous welcome, both in print and sound files, from Premier Jacques Parizeau, saying he hopes that people like Quebec’s Internet presence “enough to visit in person.” Browsers can also find Parizeau’s speech closing off the referendum debate on Sept. 20 in the national assembly, as well as a place to send the premier e-mail. The word “Canada” rarely appears in the material, making its way into a document on Quebec’s population and territory only in a reference to a geological entity, the Canadian Shield. A note about Quebec’s democratic heritage says that, since 1867, Quebec has regularly questioned its attachment to Canada. And readers of the descriptions of Quebec’s society and economy could be excused for concluding that the province is actually a country. One notation, for instance, states that Quebec has the 17thlargest economy in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of wealthy industrial nations.

The ambassador of asbestos

Charles Lacroix, 45, was born and raised in Thetford-Mines, an asbestos-producing city of 19,000 people about 100 km south of Quebec City. In the 25 years he has worked in the mines, he has developed a remarkable loyalty to the controversial industry. And like thousands of other Canadians, Lacroix does some running in his spare time. The married father of two children, however, has attacked the sport with a particular zeal. In 20 years, he has taken part in 44 marathons, including the major races in Boston, New York City, London and Chicago. Last week, he participated in his first so-called ultra-marathon, a 100-km run through the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, which he finished in 13 hours, 58 minutes, placing 10th in a field of 44 competitors. Maclean’s asked Lacroix what makes him run:

My inspiration for running? Telling people around the world that there are no health risks involved in the mining of asbestos.

There have been a lot of myths surrounding asbestos mining since the United States banned asbestos in the late 1980s. Because the United States was our biggest client, our community was hit hard with layoffs. So I’m trying to help out by debunking the myths and fears about asbestos. Asbestos mining used to be bad in the 1940s Lacroix: ‘a lot of myths’ and ’50s. But by the time I started mining in 1970, things had already improved dramatically. Now, we use equipment, including robots, to extract the material.

When I finished in the top 3,000 [among 38,000 competitors] at the London marathon a few years ago, the journalists called me “the northern miner.” They were amazed that an asbestos miner could perform so well in an endurance sport. I’m proud to be the ambassador of asbestos.

Bell gets its fingers burned on ‘the Net’

Trademarks Journal. The organization’s president, David Jones, a computer scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, accused Bell of trying to “kidnap” the Internet. And members started posting notices on the Internet, asking supporters to start collecting every reference they could find to the phrase “the Net”—to show how it has entered the vernacular. Bell quickly got the message, and announced—on the Net— that it was dropping its trademark application. Hackers of the world unite.

Users of the Internet, the globe-spanning web of computer communication networks, are usually a loosely organized lot. But they can be a force to be reckoned with—if provoked. The giant Montreal-based Bell Canada has learned that lesson, after applying to trademark the phrase “The Net” to describe its own commercial package of telecommunications services. It launched the action back in 1992, when only the computer cognoscenti were familiar with the working of the Internet. But the computer communications system has since moved into the mainstream— and become familiarly known as the Net. Just last month, members of Electronic Frontier Cana. da, a cyberspace lobby group of IAARE about 100, caught up with Bell’s *»E MET application through a notice in the