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How the poppy unites Canadians

Whole Foods can be excused somewhat for believing that wearing a poppy is potentially divisive. It might be in the United States, but not in Canada.

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The poppy that Canadians wear as part of the Nov. 11 remembrance is uniquely unifying. It has no political or cultural agenda. Nor has it a regional bias.


Indeed, few things in this country are as uniformly sacred to the national soul as the collective remembrance of the sacrifice of those who fought – and who maintained peace – on behalf of Canada’s ideals.

After 100 years, the poppy remains an enduring emblem of that remembrance.

Whole Foods must not have comprehended that Canadian fact. The American grocer, which has fewer than 20 stores in Canada but hundreds in the U.S., has a policy that prohibits employees from displaying symbols or badges on their clothing while at work. And that would include Canada’s beloved poppy.

When the grocery giant’s ban became known, Canadians were understandably angered but also bewildered. Whole Foods quickly reversed its ban, and announced a donation to the poppy fund that’s maintained by the Royal Canadian Legion. That donation is needed, as poppy sales are expected to be down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whole Foods’ ban on the display of such symbols and badges on the clothing of its American employees is sadly understandable. The U.S. has for many years been divided and fractured over a multitude of issues. A tinderbox of clashing political views and competing cultural values can be easily ignited.

Like a great many corporate entities, Whole Foods is not in the business of provoking controversy. It sells groceries. It does not want to peddle hostility and anger, nor does it want to be the catalyst.

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Canadians, of course, are not immune to the same divisive impulses that stalk the U.S. They have also been expressed here.

To be sure, nations such as Canada and the U.S. – that have since their foundation sought unity and a collective national ambition under a solitary flag – are increasingly being tested in these days. In the past, such national soul-searching was a healthy expression of democracy. That’s not always the case today.

But the Canadian poppy remains above that fray. It is free of controversy and has rarely, if ever, been used as a pulpit for any ideology that seeks to divide or diminish a group of Canadians or another part of our nation.

And that’s as it should be.

– Peter Epp

This Week in Flyers