The British Columbia branch of the Royal Canadian Legion says it's "unfortunate" that people with political agendas chose Remembrance Day to disrupt those who wanted to honour the sacrifice of military veterans.
The legion's B.C./Yukon Command issued a statement Friday criticizing protests on Remembrance Day in Kelowna and Kamloops, as well as "the defacing and vandalism" of a memorial in Cranbrook.
"We are saddened that anyone would feel it necessary to distract from the sacrifice of our veterans and their families with political agendas. Especially on Remembrance Day," said Val McGregor, president of the B.C./Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion.
"We are the keepers of remembrance in Canada," said McGregor. "As long as we exist, we will uphold the tradition of remembrance to ensure Canada's fallen will not be forgotten."
The legion statement says COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have meant changes to how veterans are honoured, including smaller or virtual ceremonies and even cancelled events.
"It is unfortunate that some took this as an opportunity to distract others from grief, remembrance and their intention to honour our veterans," says the statement.
It says the protests in Kelowna and Kamloops — and the vandalism in Cranbrook — are "unacceptable."
RCMP in Kelowna said they are investigating a report of 75 to 100 demonstrators at the city's cenotaph who arrived just before 11 a.m. on Remembrance Day.
Insp. Adam MacIntosh said when people choose to interrupt those observing Remembrance Day, it is "a step too far."
Mayor Colin Basran said the city held a small, invitation-only ceremony, which he attended, at a local legion branch because of the COVID-19 infection rate in the community.
An event at the cenotaph, where thousands would normally attend Remembrance Day ceremonies, was not organized by the city, but many veterans went there and became embroiled in the protest against COVID-19 vaccination, he said.
"My reaction is anger, frustration," he said. "The word I'm using is 'reprehensible.' This was just the wrong time and wrong place for this type of protest. (It's) completely disrespectful to our veterans."
Kamloops lawyer Jay Michi said he and his two young daughters left what he thought was a Remembrance Day ceremony in the city's downtown park after it turned out to be a protest against B.C.'s vaccine mandate.
He said he arrived at Riverside Park believing he was attending the city's official Remembrance Day ceremony, which was actually held at a cenotaph downtown as an invitation-only event.
Michi said he realized he might have gone to the wrong place when a young man started reading a statement against the government's vaccine policy before another man grabbed the microphone and used obscenities to complain about COVID-19 vaccines.
"Somebody almost punched somebody out," he said. "Somebody else was saying, 'Now is not the time,' and this really big guy was saying, 'Well, we agree with him,'" he said. "It was very, very aggressive, and I just thought, 'This is like crazy, I'm getting my kids out of here.'"
In Cranbrook, the city says someone vandalized its cenotaph on Remembrance Day, but it wouldn't say how the monument was defaced.
"As a community, we are beyond disappointed by the disrespectful actions of those responsible for defacing such an important monument on such an important day for all Canadians," it said in a statement.
It said officials were able to remove the graffiti to allow Remembrance Day ceremonies to go ahead.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2021.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press