The head office of the Royal Canadian Legion says the sale of a little black pin designed to keep you from losing yet another poppy is commercializing Remembrance Day.
"People are being asked to pay $3 for a centre pin which is not really part of the spirit of the campaign. It's a commercial venture," said Bill Maxwell, senior program officer with the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command in Ottawa.
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The pin is a near replica of the black felt centre of the legion's traditional poppy — minus the sharp, straight pin. Instead, the poppy centre substitute is a lapel pin with a flat back that doesn't poke and stays put.
"There's a substantial discount that I give to the legions so that they can, you know, make some profit. And what they do with that — that's their business. They can put it into their general funds or they can put it into the poppy fund," said Doug Michetti, the Calgary man behind the poppy pin centres.
Michetti, a longtime legion member and volunteer, says branches sell his pins to the public for $3 each. He says he charges them "less than half that" for each pin and it costs him a dollar to make a pin. He keeps any remaining profit, but declined to provide more details.
"The legions do not sell them with the poppy. You contribute to the poppy fund and you take a poppy and if you want a pin, you buy that separately."
Designed for safety
Michetti came up with the idea for his poppy pin centres four years ago while volunteering for local branch No. 284 at the Calgary airport.
Two young girls from the U.S. approached him, curious about the red plastic flower brooches on his table. After a brief lesson in Canadian history, Michetti gave each of them a poppy pin.
"Then, their mother came along and she looked at the pin and the poppy and said, 'I'm sorry, but girls, you're going to have to give those back.' She was afraid of the pin."
That prompted Michetti to devise a safer backing. Excited by his eureka moment, he immediately rang up head office to inquire about joining forces.
Legion brass told Michetti it was good idea, but they were not interested.
"So I thought, well, it leaves me to do it. So I did it."
Poppy pin centres sell like gangbusters
On Monday, two Royal Canadian Legion branches in Calgary — No. 154 (Ogden) and No. 264 (Kensington) — had sold out of Michetti's pins.
"I've had no luck so far, " said Lise Marier, who has been searching the city for a dozen poppy pin centres for her family and friends.
In downtown Calgary, a volunteer with the No.1 branch sold 200 in three hours after the word got out on Facebook.
Social media has really ramped up the sale of the poppy centre pins.
"I ran out," said Joan Lepidus, who runs a Poppy Campaign table inside the Harry Hayes Service Canada building. "I really think they're great and everybody that comes to buy them — they come back two or three times."
Michetti says he has sold about 40,000 of his pins to legions and individuals across Canada and the U.S. since he launched his website.
Pins 'deface' poppy symbol
"You know it is defacing our poppy, and our policy is such that the poppy should not be defaced," said Maxwell, who also speaks for the Royal Canadian Legion's poppy and remembrance committee in Ottawa.
His stance is in line with what's written on page 42 of the Legion's Poppy Manual — that the poppy is a 'sacred symbol of remembrance' and no other pin (except the pointy one that it comes with) should be used to attach it to your clothing.
Maxwell said legionnaires should wear their poppies in the traditional fashion, but recognizes that the Royal Canadian Legion can't control the will of the Canadian public.
"It's a personal choice. And it's better to wear a poppy than no poppy at all," he said.
Dominion Command has directed branches across Canada not to sell the poppy pin centre substitutes.
Maxwell adds that if people are worried about poking themselves with the poppy pin, many legion branches supply "poppy savers," or plastic ends, to put on the pointy end of the pin.