From some of my writing, people will know that Remembrance Day is one of my “favourite holidays”: last year I wrote about the conflict (the tension) that embraces me every year when I show respect and honour for those who fight and have fought for our nations’ freedom in a world where others seek control (Bowles, 2012). I know there has been some controversy this year; and although I find that unfortunate in one sense; it is very good in another. Although I am quite pleased to show honour and respect to those who have paid high sacrifices for our freedom, I do not wish to show subservience or subjection to what many in power have built with that freedom. The former are the ones whom I wish to honour; the latter are generally the ones who construct the forum in which that honouring occurs. That’s an important distinction. I have no problem shattering others’ subservience with questions about why they do what they do.
One of the controversies this year had to do with “white poppies”; which are an attempt to honour those who have died without glorifying war. Much though people might think this is a new controversy, the movement to use white poppies has been around almost as long as the red poppy itself (National Post, 2013). I find it unfortunate that so many people have blown off the debate implicit in the white poppies by describing them as, “profoundly ignorant” (Globe and Mail, 2013), revolting (Toronto Sun, 2013) or simply “offencive” (CBC: Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, 2013). I understand that the red poppy produced by the Royal Canadian Legion support Veterans and their families, a much needed service (The Legion, 2013). But that does not invalidate complimentary discussion on the subject.
Some note that the white poppy is an artificial flower in their arguments as to why it should not be used at Remembrance Day. I actually find that appropriate. Peace is not a natural state for human beings through history: we have to work at it. Peace is, in a very real sense, just as artificial as the white poppy.
This year just added to my internal conflict because I heard that Rob Ford would be speaking at Toronto’s Remembrance Day recognition downtown. Indeed, I did not write this piece and took a break from publication about Mr. Ford until after that day. About a kilometre from where I currently work, I’ve grown familiar with the area and the cenotaph near old city hall, and I appreciate its reason for being. And although I respect the position of mayor of our city, I cannot respect Mr. Ford. So I could not participate in the 11:00am moment of silence convened at the cenotaph. I could not imagine such a solemn moment being led by a man whom I associate with drunkenness, violent outbursts and favouritism. Instead, I tuned in the event as televised from Ottawa.
I found it so ironic. I know the tradition: “the speech by the mayor of Toronto has long been a centerpiece of the Remembrance Day ceremony” (Landmark Report, 2013), and the mayor “fought” for his “right” to maintain tradition and to speak at the event. I could not help but think of another tradition that he so blithely refused a few years ago: the tradition that every mayor of the city (until Mr. Ford) appeared in the Pride Parade Pride over Gay Pride Week. Mr. Ford, though, steadfastly refused, citing his personal tradition of being up at the cottage. It seems he feels he gets to pick and choose his traditions. It must be nice to be that important… or at least to think you’re that important.