White poppy cam­paign makes lit­tle head­way in Canada

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Michael MacDON­ALD

More than five years after the white poppy cam­paign sparked a ran­corous de­bate about how Cana­di­ans should re­flect on Re­mem­brance Day, the anti-war move­ment is still sting­ing from its ugly stand­off with the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion.

Or­ga­niz­ers be­hind the low-key cam­paign, which pro­motes peace and re­mem­bers civil­ian ca­su­al­ties of war, ad­mit the le­gion’s op­po­si­tion has un­der­mined the pop­u­lar­ity of the white poppy, with only 1,200 of the pale, home­made flow­ers dis­trib­uted last year in ad­vance of Re­mem­brance Day.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the le­gion’s neg­a­tiv­ity – turn­ing it into an ei­ther/or – has done a lot of dam­age in terms of dis­cour­ag­ing peo­ple,” says au­thor and peace ac­tivist Heather Men­zies.

“In terms of mes­sage con­trol, they have suc­ceeded in com­mu­ni­cat­ing: ‘If you wear the white poppy, it means that you are not hon­our­ing the war dead.”’

A spokeswoman for the le­gion’s Do­min­ion Com­mand in Ot­tawa said the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which rep­re­sents 275,000 vet­er­ans and dis­trib­utes mil­lions of red pop­pies ev­ery Novem­ber, would not com­ment on the white poppy move­ment.

In the past, the le­gion has called the white flow­ers – some with the word “peace” ap­pear­ing in the cen­tre – an in­sult to vet­er­ans and a pos­si­ble copy­right vi­o­la­tion be­cause the le­gion owns the trade­mark on the poppy.

In 2010, the le­gion threat­ened to launch a law­suit to stop the al­ter­na­tive poppy drive.

In Fe­bru­ary 2011, the ad­vo­cacy group Cana­dian Voice of Women for Peace met with the le­gion’s lead­er­ship to seek a com­pro­mise, but the vet­er­ans weren’t in­ter­ested, Men­zies says.

“I thought we had made some progress in shift­ing the par­a­digm on what would be the fo­cus of Re­mem­brance Day,” says Men­zies, whose great un­cle was the vic­tim of a gas at­tack dur­ing the First World War, and whose fa­ther was wounded by shrap­nel while fight­ing in France and Hol­land dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

“That would mean hon­our­ing the dead but also la­ment­ing war be­cause it is so destruc­tive... I thought they heard us that day... (But) they just kept re­it­er­at­ing, ‘We want to de­fend our brand,’ which is the red poppy.”

Since then, Cana­dian Voice of Women for Peace has qui­etly sol­diered on with its cam­paign, even thought it hasn’t gained much mo­men­tum.

Lyn Adam­son, the group’s co-chair­woman, says wear­ing a white poppy is not meant to show dis­re­spect to­ward vet­er­ans and, more im­por­tantly, it can help open a broader dis­cus­sion about the true cost of war. That’s why she wears both types of pop­pies at this time of year.

“We do want to re­mem­ber those who have given their lives by fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions of their coun­try in send­ing them to war, but we also want to re­mem­ber the civil­ian deaths,” she says, adding that build­ing a cul­ture of peace in­volves talk­ing about Canada’s multi­bil­lion-dol­lar arms in­dus­try and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion in June to boost de­fence spend­ing by 70 per cent over the next 10 years.

“Let’s think crit­i­cally about war, while re­spect­ing the vet­er­ans who lost their lives, and let’s use this op­por­tu­nity of re­mem­ber­ing to fig­ure out how we can end war.”

While the his­tory of the red poppy can be traced back to the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th cen­tury, it was first adopted as a sym­bol of re­mem­brance in Canada in 1921, six years after Lt.-Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ont., wrote about the blood-red flow­ers that grew over bat­tle­fields in his poem, “In Flan­ders Fields.”

The white poppy emerged as a sym­bol of peace in 1933, when the Women’s Co­op­er­a­tive Guild in Bri­tain was search­ing for a way to show their mem­bers were against war and for non-vi­o­lence.

In Canada, the le­gion’s en­mity for the white poppy has been par­tially fu­elled by the mis­con­cep­tion that peace ac­tivists be­lieve the red poppy rep­re­sents a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of war, Men­zies says.

“All of the peo­ple I know who wear the white poppy are ex­tremely re­spect­ful of the mes­sage of the red poppy, which is an hon­our­ing of the peo­ple who sac­ri­ficed their lives in war so that there could be peace and free­dom for other peo­ple,” she says.

How­ever, the Lon­don-based paci­fist group that leads the white poppy cam­paign in Bri­tain, the Peace Pledge Union, takes a more con­fronta­tional ap­proach. The group’s web­site says the white poppy is a sym­bol of peace and re­mem­brance for all vic­tims of war, but it also says it is aimed at chal­leng­ing “at­tempts to glam­or­ize or cel­e­brate war.”

Mar­ian White, a vol­un­teer with the Is­land Peace Com­mit­tee in Char­lot­te­town, says the red poppy is too closely as­so­ci­ated with ex­tolling the heroic virtues of the mil­i­tary - a po­si­tion the le­gion has stren­u­ously re­jected.

“What we’ve been do­ing is qui­etly, each fall, re­mind­ing peo­ple that civil­ians are the ma­jor­ity of the vic­tims of war th­ese days, and that the red poppy cam­paign is some­thing that we see as glam­or­iz­ing or cel­e­brat­ing war,” White says. “It looks at the vic­tims solely in the mil­i­tary ... It’s heav­ily mil­i­taris­tic.”

CP PHOTO

Lyn Adam­son, who makes and gives away white pop­pies to com­mem­o­rate all vic­tims of war, poses with one of her home­made pop­pies in Toronto on Thurs­day.

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