Veterans' groups 'appalled' by website selling Remembrance products for apparent profit
Critics claim site gives false impression proceeds are going to veterans
Veterans advocates are outraged by an operation called Canada Veterans that they believe is exploiting both the country's military symbols and those who have served.
"I'm appalled," says war vet Michael Blais, of the similarly named organization Canadian Veterans Advocacy. "To think that [someone] would stoop so low to use national sacrifice as a venue to profit is disgusting."
Up until Thursday, Canada Veterans was selling via its website military memorial products such as a poppy brooch for $35.95 and "Lest We Forget" shirts ranging from $29.95 to $39.95.
The organization also has a Facebook page where it calls itself Services Veterans Canada. The page includes photos of soldiers and Remembrance Day services. The Royal Canadian Legion says this gives the impression that veterans are behind the business, when it has found no evidence to support this.
Instead, it believes the outfit is a for-profit operation that's duping customers into thinking they're supporting Canada's veterans.
"It's exploitive in the worst sense," says Peter Underhill, director of supply with the Royal Canadian Legion. "[The word] 'disgust' comes to mind that people would use veterans and Remembrance as a method to defraud Canadians. It's pretty awful, actually."
Underhill suspects Canada Veterans is either selling products for money or just stealing customers' cash — and perhaps even credit card information.
"We're not sure what they're doing, but it's offensive," he says.
Profiting off poppies
The Legion first heard alarm bells in mid-August when it received warnings from people about a suspicious-looking website advertised in their Facebook feeds.
According to screenshots provided by the Legion, both the operation's Facebook page and website used the Royal Canadian Legion's name and logo, and sold products including a ribbon poppy pin that looked identical to one offered by the Legion. The only difference was that the site sold it for $45.95 and the real Legion charges $16.95.
The Legion took issue not only with the fact that the site stole its identity but also that it was brazenly selling poppy products.
The Remembrance poppy symbol is a registered trademark of the Royal Canadian Legion, which sells poppy-themed items to raise money for veterans' services. Anyone else who wants to use the symbol must get permission.
Edmonton customer, Christina Mitchell is still waiting for a $16.95 poppy-themed scarf she ordered from the site on August 15. At the time, she thought it was a veterans-associated service. "I remember it specifically saying, 'Legion,' and there were messages about supporting the veterans," she says.
Underhill said the Legion complained to both Facebook and Shopify, which provided the platform for the website, and that within a day, both the operation's Facebook page and website disappeared.
Soon after, however, a new Canada Veterans site and related Facebook page popped up.
The website no longer used Legion branding but instead a symbol that appears almost identical to Air Canada's logo: an encircled red maple leaf.
Underhill suspects the same operator is behind the new business because it offers some of the same products, including the poppy scarf. The previous site, however, advertised it as a "red poppy scarf." The new version calls it a "red scarf flower."
"They're evolving their fraud," said Underhill. "It's almost like they're testing the waters to see what they can get away with."
The operation has also irked veterans' supporters like Wendy Station, of North Vancouver, who saw the website advertised in her Facebook feed and, at first glance, thought it was legitimate.
"It annoys me to no end," says Station, whose father served in the Second World War.
"They've got photographs of or our military, our soldiers on their website. If I saw a family member in that photo, I would just be sick about it."
Website taken down
CBC News reached out to Canada Veterans but did not immediately receive a response.
We also visited the Toronto address that the organization listed on its website: 4907 Dundas St., but could find no evidence of Canada Veterans or any related business at the location.
Underhill says the Legion is now seeking legal advice and complained again this week to both Facebook and Shopify about the new sites. CBC News also contacted both companies.
Facebook declined to comment. We didn't hear back from Shopify but discovered the day following our inquiry that the Canada Veterans website had disappeared. At last check, its Facebook page was still active.
To warn future customers, Station has been posting comments on the Services Veterans Canada Facebook page such as "DO NOT PURCHASE from these people … they are scammers!"
Most of her comments have been removed, but Station plans to keep posting warnings. "I'm a retired person, I've got time. I'll do it every morning," she said.