There was some drama downtown yesterday that’s erupted into a full-blown controversy in the news. After the Remembrance Day ceremony, a group laid two wreaths of white poppies at the National War memorial. I’ve read conflicting accounts of the group responsible, so I don’t know if it was Voice of Women or the Ottawa White Poppy Coalition. But to me, it doesn’t much matter.
The white poppy isn’t very well known around here, but Wikipedia describes it as “an artificial flower used as a symbol of peace, worn as an alternative or complement to the red poppy for Remembrance Day or Anzac Day.”
This isn’t about freedom of expression to me. I’m all for peace and have no problem with anyone saying that peace is a good thing. I’m not a pacifist, but I have no problem with those who voice their beliefs. I take issue with those behind the white poppy co-oping the symbol and ceremony of remembrance day for their own cause. They’re free to do so, but I feel it shows a tremendous disrespect and they shouldn’t be surprised that people are expressing disapproval. Being free to do something doesn’t mean there will be no consequences.
Let’s take a step back and define things.
Veterans Affairs Canada describes Remembrance Day in this way:
Veterans Affairs Canada joins with all Canadians in recognizing the sacrifices and achievements of those who have served in the cause of peace and freedom around the world over the years.
Veterans, Canadian Forces members and those who have given their lives in the pursuit of peace have made great contributions to our country and the world. The peaceful society we in Canada enjoy today is only a dream to the many people in the world who live in countries torn apart by violence. This peace is possible only because it has been protected by the efforts and sacrifices of generations of Canadians over the years who have put their lives on the line. Remembering all that these men and women have done during times of war, military conflict and peace helps us understand the country we live in today and how we can build a better future together.
The first sentence pretty much sums it up for me.
Those behind the white poppy are not as structured so it’s difficult to be so specific. There was an article in the National Post on November 3 however, in which Ian Harvey, an activist in the Ottawa White Poppy Coalition, shares some of his thoughts. He says,
The red Legion poppy, in my opinion, represents the nostalgia and romanticizing of war
I disagree. Further, I wonder where he could possibly get such an idea. No veteran I’ve ever heard had anything good to say about war. Perhaps that it’s necessary at times, but not that it’s ever a good thing. I’d like to know why Harvey holds this opinion because I can’t imagine how he formed it.
The story describes Harvey’s plan to lay the white poppy wreaths on the National War Memorial at 12:30 pm, after the ceremony. And we come to the crux of the matter when he says,
We don’t want to look like we’re competing with them.
But they are, and he knows it. Although there are 364 other days, he chooses Remembrance Day to lay the wreath. Of the 8760 hours in the year, he wants us to believe that waiting a single hour after the ceremony decouples his message from the ceremony? And why lay the wreath on the National War Memorial? And there are all kinds of symbols the white poppy creators might use, including most notably, the dove, but they take the same flower and merely change the colour. Not only do they look like they’re competing, they’re making it blindingly obvious that they are competing.
The Peace Pledge Union description of the history of the white poppy shows how even the origin of the white poppy was about getting their way. The page states,
A member of the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint ‘No More War’ in the centre of the red poppies instead of ‘Haig Fund’ and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.
The details of any discussion with the British Legion are unknown but as the centre of the red poppy displayed the ‘Haig Fund’ imprint until 1994 it was clearly not successful. A few years later the idea was again discussed by the Co-operative Women’s Guild who in 1933 produced the first white poppies to be worn on Armistice Day (later called Remembrance Day). The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War — a war in which many of the women lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers.
The Haig Fund is the organization benefiting from the sale of the poppies to this day, but the pacifists wanted their own message on the poppies and had the audacity to tell the British Legion to change it or they’d make their own poppies. The British Legion obviously told them to bugger off, and rightly so.
Fast forward to today and we have a ceremony to express our gratitude and thanks to those who put themselves into harms way for all of our benefit. But that’s not good enough for the pacifists. They want to change the observance to more closely fit with their agenda, and all the while claiming that their actions have nothing to do with Remembrance Day. Make no mistake, they’re trying to co-opt Remembrance Day entirely.
Don’t expect me to show you respect for your beliefs and freedoms when you go out of your way to disrespect my beliefs and those who gave their lives so can enjoy those same freedoms.