The first instance I know of the Royal Canadian Legion’s threats of legal gunnery over the poppy symbol was in 2005. A news website operator was displaying a red poppy online without Legion permission. You can read about the battle at www.bourque.com — click on the words “No Poppy Without Permission” below a still displayed red poppy.
The next year, the Legion turned its legal gunsights on those manufacturing and selling white poppies. The white poppy symbol dates from 1933 when it was chosen to represent peace and opposition to war. The Legion’s 2006 poppy offensive targeted two Edmonton groups pushing white poppies — Edmonton Women in Black and Earth’s General Store. The Legion made the same threat of legal attack this year to the Island Peace Committee in Prince Edward Island.
The Legion has a trademark on the poppy symbol in Canada. I have not investigated the Act of Parliament and series of trademark registrations involved to determine whether the Legion’s threats towards Bourque (red poppy) and the Edmonton and Prince Edward Island peaceniks (white poppy) are legally sound. If they are, I don’t think the organization has any moral to hold this club. The significance of the red poppy — an international symbol — is a heritage of all Canadians. I do not believe that even a largely veteran-based organization — as the Legion once was — should be able to appropriate it within Canada and deny others its use.
Further, even if a case could be made to give the Legion custody over the traditional red poppy, I don’t think that right should extend to something that does not remotely impede use of the emblem. The white poppy does not denigrate our military nor the sacrifice of those who died in our country’s wars. If the Legion’s trademark does, as claimed, extend to a white poppy that is simply viewed as a spoiler, and I hope that the white poppy organizers challenge the trademark’s validity insofar as it extends to white poppies and that the courts chuck it out. I have not and would not wear the white poppy. I do not accept the point of view behind it. But I disagree vehemently with the Royal Canadian Legion seeking to suppress freedom of expression.
St. Albert resident David Haas has extensive regular and reserve force peacetime military service.