It was the eleventh hour. I'd written and rewritten my first novel, Taxed to Death, umpteen times over an eight-year period, and finally gave it to a professional editor prior to publishing. And then the question came - the one I hadn't anticipated as a neophyte - the one that ran my blood cold. "Have you run this by Revenue Canada? After all, you're using their name in your book and they might have issues with it." Indeed. My protagonist, Alex Bellamy, is a junior auditor with R.C., his colleague's been murdered, and Alex's investigation leads him to think that someone within R.C. might be involved.
Novel in hand, I sought the advice of an entertainment lawyer and asked him to read the book in search of possible libelous content. While he found none, he advised me to contact R.C., tell them what I was doing and ask permission to use their name in my story. Legally, he told me, R.C., or any real instituion I used, could say no. Having worked too hard and too long to abandon this book, I took his advice to heart.
Did you know there are friendly, helpful people at Revenue Canada, or Revenue Canada Agency as it's now called? After explaining my situation to a woman at the Vancouver Branch, she paused a moment, clearly taken aback by my request. "No one's asked to put us in a novel before," she said. Hmm. I couldn't imagine why. And then she told me that she'd have to speak to higher ups in Ottawa. The prospect of involving Ottawa put me in a cold sweat. If this went badly, I'd either have to scrap the book, risk a lawsuit or, worse, face audits every year for the rest of my life.
Within 48 hours, the woman phoned me back and reported that they'd need an outline of my book and the names of main R.C. characters to run through their database. R.C. wanted to ensure that no one past and present, anywhere in Canada, had those names. At this point, the sweat really began to pour. The names were Alex Bellamy, Andy Gowan, and Kelly Faust. What were the odds?
Astronomical as it turned out. No one had those names and furthermore, R.C. approved the project and wished me well. I have this in writing, in case you were wondering. I couldn't have been happier with their promptness, their courtesy, or more relieved at the outcome.
I'm sharing this to spare other writers the risk of legal problems in their novels. If you intend to use a real institution or corporation in your book, check with them before doing so. A couple of phone calls and an outline is a small price to pay for your peace of mind. Oh yes, and get it in writing.