Whole Foods Market, the luxury grocery chain owned by Amazon.com Inc., has ignited a storm in normally placid Canada after telling staff there that they can’t wear poppies to commemorate Remembrance Day.
The small red flowers, which are ubiquitous on the left lapels of politicians, journalists, celebrities and millions of Canadians from the last Friday in October until Nov. 11, became a symbol of soldiers’ sacrifice in the wake of World War I. They’re handed out by volunteers on street corners and in shops, with donations collected for The Royal Canadian Legion, which supports veterans and their families.
As reports began to circulate on Canadian media about the decision, the chain began to trend on Twitter, along with the hashtag #LestWeForget.
“Whole Foods Market honors the men and women who have and continue to bravely serve their country,” Rachel Malish, a spokesperson for the chain, said in an emailed statement. “We support Remembrance Day in all of our Canadian stores by observing a moment of silence on November 11th and by donating to the Legion’s Poppy Campaign. With the exception of those items required by law, our dress code policy prohibits any additions to our standard uniform.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the decision “disgusting,” later adding that the province will introduce legislation to stop any employer from banning employees from wearing poppies during Remembrance Week.
No one should ever be denied the right to wear a poppy. A poppy is not a political symbol, it is a statement of respect and gratitude for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. As a son of a WWII veteran, I stand with the Premier #onpoli #LestWeForget https://t.co/kh0G0vG9m8
— John Yakabuski (@JYakabuskiMPP) November 6, 2020
Federal opposition leader Erin O’Toole tweeted a video on “Woke Food” outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa. “Wow. The freedom they have to be that stupid was granted by the sacrifice of thousands of Canadians and that’s why we show respect for the poppy,” he said.
The sacrifice of Canadians in the past provides the freedom for a US grocery chain to be stupid today. Let’s tell Whole Foods to stop trying to be Woke Foods. The poppy is not a cause, it is a sign of respect. https://t.co/LFg63PiB9Y
— Erin O'Toole (@erinotoole) November 6, 2020
Toronto Mayor John Tory weighed in, as did politicians across the country. Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s Minister of Veteran Affairs, tweeted his displeasure in both official languages, calling the policy “absolutely unacceptable.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retweeted MacAulay’s comment.
Whole Foods’ dress code has also come under fire in the U.S. Some employees complained earlier this year that the company was preventing them from showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The poppy has become a symbol of remembrance in other Commonwealth countries but its origins are Canadian. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, of Guelph, Ontario, immortalized the scarlet flower in May of 1915, when he penned the poem “In Flanders Fields” on a scrap of paper after the death of a fellow soldier in Belgium.
Scores of Canadian children recite the poem each year, which begins: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row/That mark our place . . .”
-With assistance from Matt Day.