A popular fundraising partnership between Telus and Wounded Warriors Canada was commandeered by the Royal Canadian Legion this week because it included an image of a poppy, which the legion claims as a trademark symbol.
The online fundraiser asks users to scroll through the names of more than 117,000 fallen soldiers — a sobering and time-consuming task — and, as users scroll, a poppy blooms above the list of names.
For each user that makes it to the end of the list, the telecommunications company pledged to donate $5 to Wounded Warriors Canada, a national mental health charity that supports veterans, first responders and their families.
But the beneficiary of the funds suddenly changed a few days after the campaign launched, and the site now pledges to donate $5 to the Royal Canadian Legion, instead.
The legion says the change happened after it contacted Telus to advise of its trademark rights over the poppy image.
"To address the situation, the legion provided Telus with the option to remove the poppy symbol from their campaign or change the beneficiary," communications manager Nujma Bond said in an email to CBC News.
"Telus chose to change the beneficiary with the promise to ensure Wounded Warriors Canada received the maximum amount of the donation they had promised them."
Loss of 'awareness'
Telus had capped its total donation at $25,000 and the limit was quickly reached before the change was made, said Wounded Warriors Canada executive director Scott Maxwell.
"We were just astounded by the support that Canadians showed for this particular campaign," he said.
But Maxwell said he had anticipated the Wounded Warriors Canada logo would remain on the site until Remembrance Day, when the campaign is set to end, and he was surprised to hear on Wednesday that it had been replaced by the Royal Canadian Legion's.
"I think we would have got more awareness, for sure, through the remainder of the week," he said.
"We need all the help we can get when it comes to donor partners to our programs."
He also said Wounded Warriors Canada was aware of the legion's poppy trademark and would never have agreed to do a fundraising campaign that centred around the image.
"This campaign was based on the names of the fallen — the honour roll — and not in any way, shape or form based on benefiting from the poppy's image," he said.
Maxwell said a trademark claim based on "just the fact that a poppy was added to the web page" was, in his view, "stretching it."
Bond said the same campaign ran last year as a partnership between the legion and Telus.
"We were not aware that Telus was running this campaign again until it was posted online," she said. "We were not aware of any Wounded Warriors involvement this year — they also did not approach us to participate."
In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Telus said the company was supporting two organizations through the website's Remembrance Day scroll — donating $25,000 to both Wounded Warriors and the Royal Canadian Legion.
"Since 2008, TELUS, our team members and retirees have contributed more than $1.25 million to the military community across Canada," the statement read.
Maxwell said he's grateful to the company for working with Wounded Warriors Canada on the campaign and was hesitant to speak out on the topic for fear of discouraging future partnerships between companies and veterans groups, but he felt the legion's actions raise larger questions.
"Right now across the country, as you know and I know, there's use of poppies all over the place benefiting veterans' families," he said.
"If this is going to take place over and over and over again, I certainly think it needs more of a discussion amongst Canadians and the Royal Canadian Legion."
Bond said the legion was granted the poppy trademark by the federal government in 1948 and uses it to raise money for the Legion's Poppy Fund, which supports veterans and their dependents.
"As such, while we acknowledge the efforts of other groups working to help our veterans, the legion does not authorize the use of the poppy image with the aim of raising funds for any other purpose than the Poppy Fund," she said.
Bond said the legion "has a good relationship with both Telus and Wounded Warriors Canada."
Steve Critchley, a retired veteran who joined the legion in 1978 but has since let his membership lapse, said he felt "frustrated and hurt" when he learned how the organization had supplanted Wounded Warriors Canada.
He said the legion was acting like "a schoolyard bully," in his view.
"The legion is claiming they own all images of the poppy? That's like saying the legion owns the Christmas tree. It's gotten to the point of just simply being ridiculous," he said.
"This is painful to see what the legion has done and how they act now," Critchley added.
"It's not the organization that I or my grandfathers were a part of."