Legion caught off guard by policy
Library board to re-examine rule that bars poppy trays in branches
At first, Alan Fahey couldn’t believe his ears.
Never in his 40 years as a member of the Royal Canadian Legion had he been refused permission to display a poppy tray.
And now, twice on the same day.
“I know I had a blank look on my face,” said the immediate past president of the Tatamagouche legion branch.
The first refusal came at the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission (NSLC). Shortly after, it was the same story at the Tatamagouche branch of the Colchester East Hants Library.
Fahey said it was the refusal at the publicly funded library that shocked him most.
“I think it was a total disgrace, it being a community building,” he said. “She told me right up front that they were not allowed to display the poppy trays.”
Fahey expressed his concerns about the library’s stand to local Colchester County Councillor Mike Gregory. He, in turn, raised the issue during council’s recent session. A motion was passed to officially communicate those concerns to the library board.
Coun. Karen Mackenzie, who sits as municipal representative on the library board, said the policy to refuse poppy trays does not align with her beliefs.
“That was kind of hateful, wasn’t it,” she told the Truro News. “There wouldn’t be a public library there, if it wasn’t for those veterans.”
Library CEO Tiffany Bartlett said the decision to not permit poppy trays in the facilities was made by the board during a meeting in September as part of a more wide-ranging ban on solicitation practices. The ban was implemented Nov. 5.
“We had been approached by multiple organizations to assist with fundraising efforts, and it became apparent that we needed guidelines that could be applied consistently to all community requests,” Bartlett said. “The new selling and soliciting policy states that ‘library staff and volunteers shall not solicit or accept monetary donations on behalf of any organization other than Colchester-east Hants Public Library and the Colchester-east Hants Public Library Foundation’. This restriction includes donation boxes for money and other fundraising activities for charitable purposes,” she said.
Bartlett stressed it was never the board’s intention to make the legion feel unsupported and it does regret that result.
“We do want to make sure that we are consistent and fair across all organizations. But we will be reaching out to the legion to explore ways in which we can partner with them in the future,” she said. “So, I think there are other ways that we can definitely support them and that’s an important community relationship that we want to maintain.”
That includes distributing information on behalf of the legion and other community groups, including promotional pamphlets and posters, and by providing free meeting space to non-profit organizations, as well as partnering to facilitate public programming and information sessions.
But given the concern that’s been raised, Bartlett said, the board will be discussing the issue at its next meeting on Tuesday.
Mackenzie said she intends to clearly state her position on the matter during that meeting.
“If the veterans want to put a poppy tray in the library, they will put it in the library,” she said. “My view is, certainly, what the veterans want, the veterans get. Because without them, we’re not even here.”
Fahey said he also talked to Colchester North MLA Karen Casey about the NSLC’S refusal to accept the poppy trays.
He said she got back to him later the same day to say that after speaking with NSLC officials, its policy to not accept unmanned poppy trays was being reversed.
Casey said while the NSLC has no difficulty with having veterans setting up poppy stands within its stores, it had implemented a policy to not permit unmanned trays because of previous thefts that had occurred.
“The real issue was trays with money in them that were unattended,” she said. “Usually there is a legion member or volunteer there.”
But the NSLC agreed to relax its policy for this year, she said, with the aim of trying to find another solution going forward.
“I think there will be a good solid look at how they can do that in future.”
One proposal, Casey said, would be to have lock boxes at NSLC counters that would prevent the theft of poppy donations. But she said there was never any intent on the part of the NSLC to discourage legion members from using their sites for poppy distribution.
“We want to make sure that we continue the tradition but perhaps do it in a more controlled way, with respect to open money,” she said.