On November 6th, former Conservative Party candidate Cyara Bird sent out a tweet claiming her 17-year old niece of Stonewall, Manitoba, was suspended from school for refusing to wear a rainbow poppy. Bird wrote in her post that the choir teacher “was demanding that the choir wear rainbow poppies during their performance in the Remembrance Day ceremony,” and her niece “rejected the idea,” which got her and another student suspended for “hate speech.”

Rainbow poppies have been created to commemorate LGBTQ veterans, but critics argue that the traditional Legion-approved red poppy represents and commemorates all veterans, so identity-based poppies would be inappropriate. 

Bird’s post immediately went viral, garnering thousands of retweets and likes. However, only two days later, Bird deleted the original post and apologized for her “ill-informed” tweet. “At the time, I believed the information in my posts were accurate. Since that time I have learned I was wrong,” wrote Bird. 

As it turns out, no choir teacher had forced any student to wear a rainbow poppy. The Interlake school division released a statement reading “In light of misinformation which has been widely spread on social media, we will share that at no point did any staff member of Stonewall Collegiate or Interlake School Division direct, nor mandate, any student to wear a ‘rainbow poppy’.”

Rather, Bird’s niece, Natalie, had taped posters around her school with anti-rainbow poppy quotes that reflected Natalie’s opinion of the matter. “You’ve got a whole month dedicated to the LGBTQ community…you just clearly want attention. One day to remember the real hero’s [sic] how about we don’t make it about your sexuality for once?” read one of the quotes. 

While the “being forced to sport a rainbow poppy” narrative ended up being outrage-fuelled fake news, Natalie deserves some credit here: voicing your opinion by putting up a couple of posters is an exercise in freedom of expression. 

“Freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom from consequences,” some like to retort. And Natalie has suffered a consequence – suspension – even though her posters were not hate speech. 

I may have been known to tape a poster or two up in my high school back in the day. One poster in particular, which poked fun at new age religion, got me into some hot water. I wasn’t suspended, but a Latino gang did show up at the school to look for me, and I was ordered by the principal to go home for my own safety.

So kudos to Natalie for stirring it up a bit in her small town: I can’t fault anyone for wanting to be a tad provocative. 

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