VANCOUVER - Every November for over 10 years now, a white “peace poppy” has joined the traditional red one on Teresa Gagne’s lapel. The Royal Canadian Legion thinks the white poppies are disrespectful.
The white poppy symbolizes the mourning of civilian deaths in war, the environmental devastation war causes, rejection of war as a tool for social change, and a call for peaceful conflict resolution.
“The best thing we can do for veterans — the ones who died and the ones who are serving — is to try to end war,” Gagne said.
She first heard about white poppies over a decade ago, though they originated in Britain in 1926. At first, she made her own. Now she orders them from the Peace Pledge Union in Britain, which makes them, to distribute them through Vancouver Peace Poppies.
Gagne said the white poppies attract a lot of curiosity.
“People were very interested, very supportive.”
But the Royal Canadian Legion, which raises money for veterans by selling red poppies, isn’t happy about the white version. Joanne Henderson, poppy fund coordinator for B.C. and the Yukon, felt the white poppy was disrespectful because it causes confusion.
“Our red poppy not only represents remembrance but also represents the peace that we’ve been able to enjoy today,” she said.
“I don’t think that there’s a better symbol of peace than the red poppy.”
However, Gagne, whose father is a WWII vet, said she feels the white and red poppies go hand in hand: red representing military sacrifice, and white civilian deaths.
“I don’t think there’s anything disrespectful about using Remembrance Day to also remember the other victims of war,” she said.
Gagne said she thinks that the peace poppies also have the power to resonate more with Canada’s immigrant population, particularly those who have experienced the effects of war from a non-Canadian perspective.
Henderson’s still not convinced.
“It isn’t white poppies that grow over their bodies, it’s red poppies,” she said, referring to the flowers that flourished after the bombardment of Flanders Fields.
Vancouver Peace Poppies has been distributing more of the white pins every year, from a mere 500 in 2009 to close to 3,000 this year.
Red poppies raise money through donations, while Vancouver Peace Poppies ask for a $1 donation for the poppies. According to Gagne, more than two-thirds of that covers the cost of importing the poppies from Britain; whatever’s leftover subsidizes peace poppies for groups such as schools, guides and brownies.