Photo By: Bart Ros from Unsplash

It’s getting to be that time of year again where you can’t open a newspaper or scroll through a social media timeline without seeing about a thousand arguments about poppies. 

Is it disrespectful to not wear a poppy? Can your employer tell you that you can’t wear a poppy because it’s not part of the uniform? If you do wear a poppy but it’s not red is it somehow worse than not wearing a poppy at all? 

Last week, Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs fanned the flames of the never-ending poppy debate by introducing legislation that would prohibit employers from preventing their employees from wearing a poppy while on the job. 

This came a year after US-based grocery chain Whole Foods landed themselves in hot water over a policy that prevented employees from wearing anything on their uniforms that could be seen as “supporting a cause,” including poppies at their Canadian locations. 

Whole Foods later backpedaled and reversed the decision, stating that the policy was never supposed to single out the poppy and was instead intended to create consistency and safety across stores. Premier Ford had been quoted as saying, “I find it absolutely disgraceful. I find it disgusting,” in the wake of the whole debacle. Ford then promised that he would make it illegal for businesses in the province to prohibit employees from wearing poppies. 

He seems to be following through on last year’s promise with this new legislation. Honestly, if you ask me, the Whole Foods policy was a dumb mistake made by a company that operates primarily in the US where poppies are not widely worn or recognized as a symbol of remembrance, and so Ford’s doubling down on the issue is nothing more than an attempt to garner good press. 

It’s not just Ford and the government though, take a scroll through Facebook any of the days leading up to Nov. 11 and you’ll likely see paragraphs of impassioned ranting about the sanctity of the poppy, particularly when it comes to people opting to wear poppies of a different colour to represent specific aspects of Remembrance Day. 

For instance, some opt to wear white poppies to commemorate all victims of war and to represent a broad commitment to peace. A black poppy might be worn to remember the sacrifices of African, Black and Caribbean communities, both as service people and as civilians. There is also always the ever-present debate about the so-called “rainbow poppy” which makes rounds every year. Many circulate false claims that the LGBTQ+ community is attempting to co-opt Remembrance Day, despite no actual movement from the community to adopt the poppy. 

People will decry the need to keep politics out of poppies while doing the very thing they say they’re against. If wearing a poppy isn’t a political statement (like Ford’s comments last year suggested), then not wearing a poppy is also apolitical. Yet, it is somehow seen as an inherent sleight against veterans to not wear a poppy in November, and anyone who proposes an alternative to the traditional red poppy or voices a legitimate concern with the poppy campaign is automatically labelled as being disrespectful. 

The fact of the matter is, there are legitimate reasons someone might not want to wear a poppy and they’re really not anyone’s business. Conservatives like Ford will die on the hill of people being able to wear a poppy and have that choice respected, while also vilifying people who make the choice not to (remember Don Cherry’s xenophobic poppy rant, anyone?). 

If you want someone to respect your choice to wear a red poppy, then you ought to respect other people’s choice to wear one in a different colour or not wear one at all.