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The Mounties get their mouse

Fed up with everything from cheap toy Mounties with heads that fall off to a pseudo-Mountie in a porn movie, the Canadian national police force has signed a deal with the Walt Disney Co. to design and market Mountie souvenirs.

Disney's Canadian operation said Wednesday that it reached a five-year deal to license manufacturers to make T-shirts, caps, postcards, watches, glassware and similar items with the Mounties' famed image prominently displayed.

But while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wanted to protect the most cherished of Canada's national symbols, the news was greeted with ridicule and anger.

"The Mounties go Mickey Mouse," said Tim Cogan, a spokesman for the legendary federal police force. "We saw that coming a mile away. There's nothing we can do about it."

The Mounties had been looking for licensing expertise since January, when they declared they were fed up with tasteless exploitation of their image. Even when Mountie products were tasteful, the police force was receiving no royalties from sales.

So an all-volunteer Mounted Police Foundation was formed to negotiate strict licensing contracts.

After hearing proposals from Canadian and U.S. firms, the Mounties selected Disney's Canadian affiliate, Walt Disney Canada.

Gary Gurmukh, owner of a company that makes T-shirts with Mountie themes, was among several business executives irked by the deal. The Mounties are "a Canadian institution" and should not have chosen a U.S.-controlled company to market them, he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Disney Canada's vice president and managing director, Jim Rayburn, said his company knew there would be bitterness as well as smirks when the deal was announced.

"We were certainly aware of that," he said. "You don't move ahead if there isn't some risk taken."

Cogan said the bottom line for the Mounties was to pick the most capable firm.

"There's bound to be some backlash from those who didn't get selected," he said. "We decided to align ourselves with the company that could best do the job the company that is probably the leader in licensing and marketing in the world."

Under the deal, any company that wants to produce Mountie-related souvenirs or other products will have to sign a licensing agreement with Disney Canada. Preference will go to Canadian firms.

By September, companies that persist in pirating the Mountie image without permission from Disney could face fines or even jail terms for their executives. But Cogan said the initial enforcement effort would not be heavy-handed. "We are not out to hurt anybody," he said.

_ Compiled from reports by Reuters and the Associated Press.