Royal Canadian Legion forgives Edmonton store that booted out Poppy Fund volunteers

A warrant is out for the arrest of Lisa Marie Goddard, 30, accused of stealing thousands of dollars from Remembrance Day donation boxes. (CBC)

An Edmonton clothing store has apologized for turning away a group of cadets looking to distribute poppies ahead of Remembrance Day, in what is being described by Royal Canadian Legion officials as a forgivable misunderstanding.

And while the incident would seem destined to leave a mark on the Legion’s annual Poppy Fund campaign, it is but a blip in what could turn out to be the most successful campaign in recent memory.

Legion officials told Yahoo Canada News that, just days into their annual poppy drive, they estimate they will distribute as many as 20 million poppies in just over a week – two million more than last year.

“The early indication is that the poppies are being distributed like never before,” Tom Eagles, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, told Yahoo Canada News. “We are seeing more people coming to the poppy trays. We are seeing more people (than usual) this early. We are a week before November 11 and we are seeing a lot of people wearing the poppy, which is great.”

The Legion’s annual poppy drive began last Friday, and was quickly marred by the Edmonton incident, in which a group of cadets was turned away from a Cabela’s clothing store in North Edmonton. The Edmonton Sun reported that the volunteers were rejected by a manager who hadn’t been told they were coming.

The manager reportedly told the group to leave because the employee who had permitted the visit did not have the authority to offer the invitation.

The incident quickly became public, prompting company CEO Tommy Milner to release Facebook statement and donate $10,000 to the Poppy Fund.

Milner wrote:

I was deeply concerned when I learned of the misunderstanding that led to cadets planning to distribute Remembrance Day poppies being turned away from one of our stores.

Of course, cadets are welcome to distribute poppies at our stores, just as they have done in the past, and to make up for the missed opportunity Cabela’s will proudly contribute $10,000 to the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund.

In his interview with Yahoo Canada News, Eagles said the Legion’s poppy campaign enlists 15,000 volunteers to distribute poppies and collect donations at outposts across the country. Some amount of miscommunication happens every year, he said, and the Legion certainly doesn’t hold any grudges.

“I think this was a misunderstanding, when the cadets went in they probably were talking to wrong person, so to speak,” Eagles said. “It is a misunderstanding, they have apologized wholeheartedly and I accept that apology.”

The poppy has stood as a symbol of remembrance since 1921, adopted in no small part to Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

The Legion’s Poppy Campaign begins every year on the last Friday of October, making this year’s start date October 31 and leaving the Legion with a shorter-than usual campaign period in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.

Despite this, Eagles says that early estimates suggest they will hand out as many as 20 million poppies over the 12-day stretch, which would far surpass last year’s 18 million poppies.

Eagles said last year’s campaign raised $14 million for veteran’s services. Based on the passion and enthusiasm see so far this year, the Legion should easily surpass that figure.

“The poppy stand out. We use it for remembrance,” he said. “It is a solemn symbol of remembrance of the men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice, but also those men and women who still wear the uniform. I think that is very important, that we still honour the men and women who wear the uniform for what they do daily.”

There is little doubt what has caused the outpouring of support this year. The deaths of two soldiers on Canadian soil in recent weeks have touched something patriotic inside of us all.

The deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, near a military base in Quebec, and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who shot dead while standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, prompted a public campaign asking the Legion to start distributing poppies earlier than usual.

Logistically, however, the Legion was unable to start their campaign early. However, many Legion branches made poppies available early.

“This was non-combat, that is a big thing,” Eagles said about why the deaths of Vincent and Cirillo have affected so many Canadians. “We you go to Afghanistan, there was casualties. But this was non-combat. We lost a young man at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider – very hallowed ground. In this country, that doesn’t happen. But unfortunately it did happen and Canadians are coming out stronger than ever to show their support for him and for the actions that happened in Quebec.”

Come Remembrance Day, it will be the outpouring and support the Legion remembers, not the snafu outside an Edmonton clothing store.