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Air Canada reverses poppy ban after outcry from employees

An Air Canada airplane is prepared at dawn for boarding at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS

Air Canada has apologized to its flight attendants after initially barring them from wearing Remembrance Day poppies – but now the company is asking employees to pin them on the right side of their jackets.

An electronic bulletin sent late Monday to employees from Renee Smith-Valade, Air Canada's vice-president of in-flight service, offered "a sincere apology for any angst" caused by her recent comments on an internal website that flight attendants were not allowed to wear poppies while in uniform.

"We ask that if you choose to wear a poppy that you wear it on the right lapel of your jacket," Ms. Smith-Valade wrote, adding that employees can also choose to wear another pin such as an award of excellence, service or union pin.

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Paul Simas, a flight attendant who is also a Canadian Forces reservist, said the point of wearing a poppy is to pin it over your heart.

"If you wear it on the right, it would be improper. It would be sort of insulting," he said in an interview Monday.

"I'm upset because the spirit of the poppy is not being understood here."

Mr. Simas, who said he has a shift at Air Canada on Tuesday, said he would be wearing his poppy on the left side.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an e-mail that employees have been told they can wear the poppy on whichever side they prefer, but the right was "only suggested" because they already wear brevets – the airline's badge – on the left.

The company quickly backed down from comments Ms. Smith-Valade made earlier Monday when she told flight attendants on the internal site they were not allowed to wear poppies at work.

"I strongly encourage anyone who wants to wear a poppy to observe and respect Remembrance Day to do so when not in uniform," Ms. Smith-Valade wrote to employees.

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Ms. Smith-Valade said the company chose to show its "deep respect" for veterans with onboard announcements on all worldwide flights.

"Our uniform policy is clear and we ask you to respect it," Ms. Smith-Valade wrote.

"Thank you for understanding and recognizing we're supportive of this national day in a significant corporate way."

After outcry from employees, however, Ms. Smith-Valade said later on Monday the policy had been reversed.

"The decision has indeed been reconsidered and the wearing of poppies is supported. My apologies for the angst this has caused for some," Ms. Smith-Valade wrote on the website.

"For those who choose to do so, please wear your poppies while in uniform with pride."

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Michel Cournoyer, president of the Air Canada wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees representing 8,000 flight attendants, said the incident is a result of poor decision-making at the top.

"We're glad that this ridiculous decision has been reconsidered," he said. "We hope in the future that we'll be actually involved in some of these spontaneous decisions before they are enacted."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

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