Each year, I’m drawn to write about Remembrance Day — how it has been transformed from a day that was supposed to say “Never Again” to one that uses dead soldiers as a justification to create more war. While individual motivations for wearing the poppy vary and are genuine, among the political class the poppy has become an effective tool to get us to fall in-line with Canadian imperialism. We are to mourn those lost in service to their country and not ask questions.
Do not ask why Corporal James Choi was shot to death during a training exercise in Alberta earlier this month. Do not ask what the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was doing off the Greek coast when it crashed in late-April, killing six Canadians. Do not ask why, 11 months after he was found dead near Kingston, Ont., reservist Michal Beaman’s name has fallen out of the news. Absolutely do not ask why there is a violent, white supremacist tendency within Canada’s armed forces.
Instead, we are called to show unflinching loyalty to the poppy and flag: symbols, not of causes, but of those things that make us Canadian.
But this year the Poppy Wars seem more ridiculous than ever before. Maybe the pandemic is finally starting to get to me, or maybe my patience for populist bullshit that milks vacant patriotism for votes is wafer thin.
On Friday, Canadian media erupted with published news that bougie American supermarket Whole Foods prohibited workers from wearing a poppy while on the job. The decision came months after Whole Foods refused to allow its workers to wear Black Lives Matter iconography while at work, citing the same uniform policy.
Never mind the fact that there are only 13 Whole Foods stores in Canada — poppy symbolism has too much political currency to ignore. And so, Canadian politicians lost their collective shit, with figures from all parties jumping into the boxing ring to fight Whole Foods’ greatest injustice: not low wages or benefits, not working conditions, not the fact that they’re owned by the world’s richest man — no. To demand that their workers can wear the poppy. By Friday afternoon, Whole Foods reversed course.
This year, Remembrance Day will be celebrated in the shadow of state-sanctioned death thanks to COVID-19. It has made me respond to the poppy discourse with a series of fuck right offs, rather than the incredible prose I’m so well known for. So, in no particular order …
Doug Ford can fuck right off with his poppy legislation.
On Friday, the Ontario premier announced he’d introduce legislation prohibiting any employer from not allowing their employees to wear a poppy. If passed, this legislation would represent more action related to employee life on the job than anything Ford has introduced related to COVID-19 so far.
Ford has been so lax with employers that the only bill to protect workers from the pandemic was passed back in March, allowing people to take unpaid time off work. But the poppy? Well, that must be protected at all costs.
Ford can also fuck right off for using the poppy discourse to earn himself a day of good press from uncritical journalists who failed to frame this story as an obvious pivot away from the increasingly bad COVID-19 news in the province.
Commemorating Canada’s war dead at a moment where Canadians are dying en masse, aided by an indifferent government that isn’t bothered by the increasing body count? I mean, I guess he thinks we aren’t paying attention to this hypocrisy?
Andrea Horwath can also fuck right off too.
On Friday, the Ontario NDP leader tweeted, “Workers at Whole Foods, and any other workplace in Canada, should have the right to choose to wear a poppy to show gratitude for the bravery and sacrifices of those who fought and gave their lives for our freedoms.”
Horwath could have said that workers should have free expression. She could have pointed out that Ford was using this news to distract from COVID-19. Instead, she joined the chorus, repeating the old lie that Canadian freedom was won by Canadian soldiers.
Remember that in reality, Canadian freedoms have been more often than not won by people who have had to confront Canadian soldiers, from workers on picket lines to people demonstrating in the streets. Our struggles for freedom have sometimes been violent, and many have sacrificed it all, but these events didn’t happen at Vimy Ridge or in Korea.
Speaking of the NDP, the federal party can also fuck right off.
The NDP failed to condemn Whole Foods when they announced their decision to not allow employees to wear BLM messaging. The NDP were, however, quick to condemn the company for its poppy decision.
On Friday, NDP MP Rachel Blaney moved a motion condemning Wholefoods “and its owner Jeff Bezos for banning its employees from wearing poppies on their uniform.” The motion was passed unanimously.
The day before, NDP MP Heather McPherson told parliament that Bezos is the first man in the world to amass $200 billion. This disgusting profiteering is thanks to exploiting his employees and paying them low wages. Is the ability to wear a poppy at work anywhere near the top of the list of job condition concerns?
Like Ford, the NDP jumped onto the Whole Foods story to earn political clout among patriotic Canadians. But unlike Ford, the NDP isn’t running from overseeing a massive crisis. So, what was the point of doing this, the same day more than 3,600 Canadians received a COVID-19 diagnosis and 55 died?
Fuck especially to Loblaw, who on Friday announced that they encourage their workers to wear poppies.
The company knows very well that this is all a political game, and that announcing their love of poppies would be an easy way to get more support from customers.
Loblaw owner Galen Weston has personally made $1.6 billion since the pandemic began, while also cutting workers’ pandemic pay. Do his workers in Newfoundland and Labrador wear poppies on the picket line? They’ve been on strike for 11 weeks demanding more full-time jobs and higher wages.
And fuck Jeff Bezos, whose greed should be condemned every time his name is mentioned (take note, NDP, even if if you’re condemning him over poppies).
The fact that Bezos is finally being condemned by Canadian legislatures, but that it’s because of the poppy instead of aggressive anti-union tactics, is proof our toothless politicians care more about juicing up war nostalgia to score easy political points than fighting for justice on behalf of working people.
This November 11, whether you wear a red poppy, a white poppy or no poppy, remember that there’s a war raging against a pandemic that has stolen thousands of lives, infected far more and has devastated communities across Canada.
As things are going to get worse before they get better, our politicians would much rather have a largely meaningless debate about symbolic representations of war and peace than take responsibility for their actions.