The High Price of Remembrance

Friday, June 1, 2007

June 6th is coming up soon. On that day in 1944, 14,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach. The Normandy invasion had begun, the first step towards liberating Western Europe from Nazi control had been taken. When the day comes around thecannon.ca won't be putting a poppy up on the main page to honour those that fell and shed blood that day or any day. Although the poppy is a seemingly universal symbol of remembrance, using it for remembrance would bring a lot of trouble.

What kind of trouble? Well, you can ask Pierre Bourque who operates bourque.com. In late 2005 Mr. Bourque was asked by the Royal Canadian Legion to remove a poppy image that was on the main page of his news site. According to an article by entertainment lawyer Bob Tarantino, the rights held by the Legion over this image is complicated. In discussing the legalalities used against Mr. Bourque, Tarantino notes that the poppy is protected both as a trademark, the same way the Pepsi logo is protected. The poppy is also protected by a private act of Parliament, called the Legion Act, that is virtually unavailable to the general public.

It is with the Legion Act that the Legion has set its aim on a Guelph resident. Joe Wilson is currently under the shadow of legal action. If you ever happen into the Arena at Wellington and Gordon on a busy night you've probably met this writer, entrepreneur and part-time bartender. This Guelph resident is being assailed in the same way as Mr. Bourque.

Joe Wilson had an idea when he saw an advertisement for the Juno Beach Centre, a memorial museum to the ìwar effort made by all Canadians, civilian and military alikeî during World War Two. Joe thought that if people were willing to wear ë73 to commemorate the incorporation of Roots clothing store, why wouldnít people wear a more important date on their wardrobe? He wanted create an original t-shirt to promote the Juno Beach Centre and to raise funds for the memorial there.

Wilson was turned down by the Centreís committee but one member told him to run with the idea. He was also turned down by ìa major Canadian clothing companyî because they believed that remembrance would not catch on in regards to a clothing line before he created d-day wear. From the first item, a full clothing line developed. On the original item, he uses a poppy of his own design. The result is that the Legion is taking Wilson to court for infringing upon their trademarked image.

As it stands now, with the rapid approach of the D-Day anniversary, Wilson is waiting for the other shoe to drop. He sent a brief through his MP, Brenda Chamberlain, to Parliament asking for clarification of the act that provides exclusive rights of the poppy to the Legion. He is still waiting for a response. The private act was last amended in 1981. Wilsonís response is that the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the content of his expression and supersedes the act banning the use of any poppy image without Legion approval. He also believes that because In Flanders Fields, the basis for the poppyís use in remembrance, is public domain so should the cultural product of that poem.

The end of this fiasco is still out of sight. When asked ìwhy go through all this?î Wilson says that it is for the principle. He says ìItís cause marketing, I have to work for someone or for somethingÖ why shouldnít I work for something that has meaning?î Wilson himself says ìa lot of times, people think that Iím some sort of snake-oil salesmanî for marketing remembrance. However, in talking with him itís obvious where his loyalties lie. From every purchase $5 goes towards placing a Canadian soldierís name on the Juno Beach memorial. He speaks about how many of those that died on the beaches were very young and probably did not have any survivors when the Centre opened in 2003. Wilson says that there is no one left to pay to place these menís names on the memorial. He speaks as though those men that died are his bosses. And he has done well for them, sending over $20,000 to the centre to have 82 memorial bricks placed even if he still has to work at the Arena to make ends meet. Some people see him as a snake oil salesman some see him as a ìDavidî facing off against a ìGoliath.î No matter which way you see him, he is part of our Guelph community and he is working for his beliefs.

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