Satiric slurs on Surrey pay off for Pitcairn
Surrey community activist and former BC Green Party candidate Don Pitcairn said he wasn't looking to stir up a media furor about his online business, surreyshirts.com, which sells silkscreened shirts with logos and slogans that celebrate the city with a satirical edge.
But the story went viral across Canada – and the website registered more than 65,000 hits in the space of 24 hours – after it was leaked to media that City of Surrey solicitors had sent out a cease-and-desist letter to quash the parody shirts he manufactures.
Particularly offensive according to the emailed letter, from assistant city solicitor Philip Huynh, are two shirts parodying the city's stylized skyscraper logo and slogan 'the future lives here.'
In Pitcairn's version, the buildings have been replaced by a vertical handgun and the slogan: 'Surrey – the future dies here,' while on another shirt, stylized buildings are surrounded by six bullet holes and the legend 'Better safe than Surrey.'
"It's not the shirts that are giving Surrey the bad image problem, it's the bodies at the side of the roads or in the driveways of homes," Pitcairn told Peace Arch News Thursday, noting he wants the shirts to help promote dialogue on gun violence in the city.
Although he acknowledges he is in discussions with the BC Green Party to run for them again in the May 14 provincial election – he ran in Surrey-White Rock in 2009 – he denies that he is using the shirt issue to gain publicity for such a bid.
He said he had been intending to take a "let sleeping dogs lie" approach to the letter from Surrey, which had been incorrectly addressed to Jason Arsenault of Surrey Clothing, another company that produces parody-style shirts.
While Surrey's objections are grounded in potential copyright and trademark violations, Pitcairn said he believes the variations on the original designs are sufficient to be well within 'fair dealing' parameters established for satirical or parody uses.
He created the basic designs, he said, which were subsequently worked on by a graphic designer.
"I had a lawyer look at them. He didn't think there would be any problem, although he thought the City of Surrey wouldn't be very happy about them."
He noted that Surrey city solicitor Craig MacFarlane has been quoted as saying he is not intending to take the matter further.
Pitcairn, who is also president of Surrey United Naturists, organizers of the annual New Years Day Polar Bare Swim at Crescent Beach, admitted the shirts' intention is to push buttons and promote discussion about Surrey's reputation as a centre of gang- and gun-related violence.
He said incidents such as the 2007 Surrey Six massacre, in which six individuals, including two innocent bystanders, were executed gangland-style, and the five firearm deaths in the city this January alone, have created a reputation for gun violence in Surrey that has spread across the continent.
In his other business, landscape and garden maintenance, he has twice seen spent handgun bullets retrieved from properties in Surrey in the space of four years, which "speaks for itself," he said.
"I'm sorry if I've ruffled feathers with the City of Surrey, but I live here, too," he said, adding that he wants to create dialogue that may lead to community-based solutions to the problem.
"If our city is to be as great as I think it could be, and it is, this is something we want to end," he said, noting that community-based initiatives in Abbotsford several years ago effectively addressed its reputation for violence.
Green Party spokesperson Craig Spence said the party is anticipating Pitcairn will seek the nomination in Surrey-Panorama, although a nomination meeting has not yet been held.
Spence said the party does not view the shirt controversy as "something that would, in any way preclude Mr.Pitcairn from running" for the party.
"The understanding of the Green Party is that this was intended to raise awareness about this issue in Surrey," he said. "The party is very open in terms of candidates representing themselves locally."