Remember those who fell in pursuit of peace

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Remembrance week had barely started before the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute blew up a media firestorm by handing out white poppies at the National War Memorial.

The message behind the white rather than traditional red poppies is, “I remember for peace.”

While not explicit in that statement, the implied sentiment is that red poppies somehow glorify war.

I have long known Rideau Institute director Steve Staples. He is a self-professed bear-baiter when it comes to the military establishment.

In this instance, it did not take the bear long to take the bait, with the Conservative government cheerleaders at Sun Media leading the charge.

Although the stunt staged by Staples and a handful of students involved just 2,500 of the controversial white poppies, Sun news went whole hog to ensure the story got plenty of ink and airtime from coast to coast.

To add some depth to their story, the Sun reporters sought out reaction from those most likely to be offended. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino rose to the occasion, telling Sun News that Staples’ initiative had really gotten under his skin.

“It really does show a lack of respect for what, in fact, Remembrance Day stands for,” Fantino said, adding, “I think (it) is totally disrespectful.”

Conservative backbench MP Ted Opitz is hardly a household name, but since he is a former army reservist, Sun reporters eagerly sought out his predictable input on the white poppy outrage.

Opitz did not disappoint. He described Rideau Institute members as “ideological extremists” and called upon the Liberals and NDP to join him in denouncing the white poppy campaign.

Not to be left on the sidelines, Liberal Veterans Affairs critic Jim Karygiannis quickly sent out media releases claiming that those students distributing the poppies had offended Canadian veterans.

To give the appearance of making this a non-partisan issue, the Sun also sought a response from the NDP. However, rather than soliciting feedback from either the NDP’s Veterans Affairs critic Peter Stoffer or Jack Harris, the party’s defence critic, the Sun selected Alexandre Boulerice.

“I never saw those buttons before, and I don’t know,” was Boulerice’s response when asked what he thought about the white poppies.

The Sun used Boulerice, an obscure NDP MP who admitted to having no knowledge of, or a qualified opinion on the topic, to remind their audience of his past transgression.

Before running for office in 2011, Boulerice wrote a blog entry criticizing the First World War as being a capitalist conflict fought “on the backs of the workers and peasants.”

He also had the audacity to challenge the myth of what was really achieved on the bloody battlefield of Vimy Ridge in 1917.

Sun News had tried to excite interest in Boulerice’s views during the 2011 election campaign, but failed to derail his campaign. Last April 9, the Sun dusted off Boulerice’s six-year-old blog post and hit pay dirt by making an inattentive audience believe he had just published the contentious remarks on the battle’s anniversary.

Obviously, this time around, Sun News was hoping Boulerice would issue a comment in favour of the white poppies so they could skewer him anew. When he failed to deliver, they just regurgitated his old transgression.

Try as they might to stir up a tempest in a teapot, Sun News portrayed the Rideau Institute as some sort of left-wing plot to denigrate the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers.

The fact is this was never the intention.

If one looked closely at the students handing out the white poppies, each one also sported a red poppy purchased from the Royal Canadian Legion.

Knowing that the Legion relies upon the sale of poppies as a government-mandated fundraising venture, the Rideau Institute distributes the white poppies for free.

In explaining his rationale for the venture, Staples explained that in a poll conducted the previous year, fewer than half of the young Canadians questioned had any plans to mark Remembrance Day. By creating the “I remember for peace” campaign, he wants to engage young people and, whether wearing a white or red poppy, at least help them recall the sacrifice.

Despite the rhetoric of Fantino, Opitz, Karygiannis and all the Sun News talking heads who took up this crusade, I think most veterans would also wish to remember those who fell in the pursuit of peace.

Those returning from the horrors of the Great War wanted to believe they had fought “the war to end all wars.”

Following the Second World War, the War Amps of Canada’s motto became “Never Again.”

Hardly words to glorify war.