London mayor Joe Fontana criticized for invoking ‘poppy defence’ amid wedding probe

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

We've all heard of the fifth amendment defence used in the United States. The fifth amendment, of course, protects witnesses from being forced to incriminate themselves.

But only in Canada would you hear of someone using the 'poppy defence.'

Former Liberal MP and cabinet minister — and now mayor of London, Ontario — Joe Fontana is the subject of an RCMP probe for allegations that he used a federal government cheque to pay for his son's wedding in 2005.

[ Related: Former Liberal cabinet minster accused of paying for son's wedding with taxpayer money ]

Earlier this week, The Free Press asked him whether the investigation would "cast a pall" over city hall. According to the local London newspaper, he pointed to his poppy, and said this:

"Most Londoners are fair-minded people, right? And they believe in due process. That's what the poppy is all about, right? It's about due process."

Not surprisingly, a Canadian war veteran has taken offence to Fontana's poppy defence.

"I don't think it's proper to be using the poppy with that kind of terminology," war veteran Pat Reidy told Patrick Maloney of the Free Press.

"The life and laws we have here have got nothing to do with the poppy at all. It's for the guys who gave their lives for this country."

Also, not surprisingly, the federal Tories got some mileage out of this story in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon:

Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs:

"Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that our government condemns the comment by the former senior Liberal cabinet minister in the strongest terms possible. This is totally unacceptable. Hiding behind our courageous veterans to avoid one's own potential legal problems is reprehensible. It does not have a place in our country.

I hope that all members of the House, including the members opposite, will join us in condemning these inappropriate comments, which should not be connected to our great veterans who gave their lives for our country."

Despite Fontana's invocation of the poppy, his troubles are not going away any time soon.

On Tuesday, London city council narrowly voted down a motion to discuss asking Fontana to vacate the mayor's chair until the allegations are resolved. There's also an on-line petition —which now has reached over 500 names — asking him to step down.

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Amid the mounting pressure, however, Fontana remains coy.