'It's just so perverse': Vaccine opponents seize on Remembrance Day to spread message in several B.C. cities
A day of sombre reflection and gratitude for Canada's war veterans was marred by individuals spreading anti-vaccination messages in at least three B.C. cities on Thursday.
That includes Kamloops, where lawyer Jay Michi brought his two young daughters to the Riverside Park Cenotaph for what he expected would be a typical Remembrance Day ceremony.
But Michi told CTV News the park looked different than previous years: There was no Honour Guard, and the bagpipes seemed to blare from pre-recorded audio. A young man then got up to recite In Flanders Fields, before reading a poem of his own.
"The poem was about remembering our forefathers who fought for our freedoms. He put an emphasis on 'freedom,'" said Michi, who is a partner at Jensen Law. "And I'm like oh my god, here we go."
The speaker started condemning vaccine mandates and government propaganda being "forced down our throats," according to Michi, who said some in the crowd immediately began jeering.
A middle-aged man who identified himself as a veteran interrupted the poem, but Michi said even he appeared to have some kind of agenda, and was "dropping F-bombs" into the microphone.
"I'm thinking, 'I need to get my girls out of here,'" said Michi, whose children are only four and six.
The lawyer admitted he was swept up in the heat of the moment and joined in the shouting.
"I just yelled 'Shame on you' to a veteran on Remembrance Day," he said, bewildered. "That's the last thing I thought was going to happen this morning when I woke up."
The official Remembrance Day ceremony organized by the Kamloops branch of the Royal Canadian Legion was not held at Riverside Park, unlike previous years, but at a different Cenotaph in the city.
It was not open to the public, but was streamed live on the Kamloops Legion's Facebook page.
Prior to arriving at the Riverside Park event, Michi said he tried explaining to his girls the importance of Remembrance Day, and honouring veterans like his own 100-year-old grandfather, who served overseas.
"He and the people in his long-term care home fought for their lives all over again because of this virus, because of this pandemic. We didn't know if he was going to make it through last year," said Michi, who felt duped into bringing his family to an event politicizing an important national holiday.
"It's just so perverse."
There was more trouble in Kelowna on Thursday, where the local legion also held a private ceremony. Many veterans and members of the public gathered at the City Park Cenotaph to pay their respects, however, and anti-vaccination activists set up a microphone to address people gathered in the area.
Veteran Sean Smith was at the park with his father, who also served, and said the remarks began with a woman criticizing the legion for not organizing a public event.
"Then she went down the anti-vax, anti-mask route and I just said, 'That's it, I'm out of here,'" Smith told CTV News.
"I've been going to Remembrance Day ceremonies for 45 years and I've never gotten to a point where I had to get angry about anything, and I lost my cool."
Video posted by news outlet KelownaNow captured some of the tense moments as people in the crowd grew angry at the demonstrators' presence.
"If they have asked you for your papers, they have already forgotten," the woman says into the microphone. "This Remembrance Day has more significance than all the ones we've had since World War II."
"Not the right time, not the right place," yells a man who walks past her with a cane..
Kelowna RCMP confirmed they are investigating "a disruption" in the park involving as many as 100 demonstrators. In a statement, the detachment said that while it supports the right to protest, doing so at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day was "a step too far."
"The Kelowna RCMP will be fully investigating this event to determine what offence, criminal or otherwise may have been committed and, if appropriate, the submission of charges or fines," Insp. Adam MacIntosh wrote.
An image also circulated on social media Thursday showing one man holding a sign criticizing vaccine passport requirements at the official Remembrance Day ceremony in North Vancouver.
North Vancouver RCMP told CTV News the man, who is known to carry signs like that in the city, attended alone and did not disrupt the service.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ben Nesbit
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