Remembrance Day falls on Wednesday, November 11 in 2020. Although Remembrance Day was declared a legal holiday like Canada Day and Victoria Day under the federal Holidays Act on March 1, 2018, provinces and territories determine which days are public holidays in their regions. Therefore, Remembrance Day is not a public holiday in all Canadian jurisdictions.
Where is Remembrance Day a public (statutory) holiday?
Remembrance Day is recognized as a public (statutory) holiday for federally regulated workers under the Canada Labour Code. In Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Yukon, Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday under their respective employment/labour standards law. Employees receive a day off with regular pay or holiday pay. If the employee is required to work on the holiday, the employee must be paid regular wages and get a substituted day off with pay at a later date (depending on the province or territory of employment).
Under Manitoba’s and Nova Scotia’s respective Remembrance Day Act, Remembrance Day is not a public holiday, but most industries are not allowed to operate on Remembrance Day, with exceptions. For instance, in Manitoba, the following industries are allowed to operate: hospital employees; hotel and restaurant employees; workers who do emergency repairs; and workers who supply heat, gas, light, water, or electrical services, just to name a few. Employees who do not work on November 11 do not get paid for the day unless the employer offers to pay as an added benefit.
In Ontario and Quebec, Remembrance Day is not a public holiday. While some employers give their employees a holiday on Remembrance Day, they are not required to do so under employment/labour standards legislation or any other legislation.
Every employer carrying on or engaged in an industry to which the Remembrance Day Act public holiday does not apply must relieve all employees from duty and suspend the operations of the industry or sector for a period of three minutes, at one minute before 11 o’clock on the forenoon of Remembrance Day.
Will the provinces (ON, QC, MB and NS) that do not observe Remembrance Day change their respective employment/labour standards legislation and join the federal government and the other jurisdictions to make Remembrance Day a public holiday? Only time will tell.
The change to the federal Act follows a popular request to make Remembrance Day a national public holiday across Canada without removing any existing public holiday.
In the United States, this day is called Veteran’s Day and is also observed on November 11.
What is Remembrance Day?
When World War One ended, (or the Great War, as it was known at that time), an armistice agreement was signed between the Allies and Germany, which took place in Paris, France, at 5:00 AM (Paris time), on Monday, November 11th, 1918. Upon signing this agreement, hostilities ceased at 11:00 A.M.
November 11, Remembrance Day (it may also be commonly known as Armistice Day), is a time for Canadians to remember and honour the fallen on both sides in the ‘Great war’, and men and women who have served and continue to serve the country in times of conflict and peace. More than 2,300,000 Canadians have served and more than 118,000 made the ultimate sacrifice (source: Veterans Affairs Canada).
Remembrance Day also allows Canadians the opportunity to be more in tune with the reality that war and conflict still continue to be a large part of the lives of many people, irrespective of age, social class, race and/or gender.
Every person in Canada is called to take a moment of silence on November 11 at 11:00 A.M., every year to commemorate Canadian contributions and sacrifices in wars and international conflicts.
The poppy represents the symbol of Remembrance.
Remembrance is the cornerstone of The Royal Canadian Legion’s work in Canada. The Poppy Campaign is a major source of funds used to assist veterans, ex-service people and their dependants. A writer first made the connection between the poppy and battlefield deaths during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, remarking that fields that were barren before battle exploded with the blood-red flowers after the fighting ended. Lieut-Col. John McCrae, the Canadian doctor who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields, made the same connection 100 years later, during the First World War, and the scarlet poppy quickly became the symbol for soldiers who died in battle. In November 1921, the first symbolic poppies were distributed in Canada.
Commemorating Remembrance Day in the workplace
The following are a few suggestions of how Remembrance Day can be commemorated in the workplace:
- At 11:00 A.M. on November 11, pause for two minutes of silence.
- Provide employees the opportunity to wear a poppy. The distribution of poppies to the general public begins on the last Friday in October and runs until November 11.
- You can donate to the Poppy Campaign. The money raised is used for the care and support of veterans and their dependants.
- Share your thanks on social media using such hashtags as #rememberthem #remembranceday #LestWeForget
The wearing of poppies at work
The wearing of poppies by employees at work came under fire this year. Starting with U.S.-based Whole Foods Market grocery chain banning employees from wearing poppies at work under their new uniform policy to create consistency and safety across stores. This policy affected employees at 14 locations across Canada.
An employee of the Whole Foods in Ottawa told CBC News she was told by a supervisor that wearing the poppy would be seen as “supporting a cause.” The Whole Foods uniform consists of an apron, coat or vest, a hat and name badge.
Under severe backlash from the Canadian public and governments, since poppies are an important symbol of remembrance in Canada, Whole Foods grocery chain reversed that policy allowing employees to wear their poppies at work.
In an emailed statement to the media, a Whole Foods spokesperson explained,
“Our intention was never to single out the poppy or to suggest a lack of support for Remembrance Day and the heroes who have bravely served their country”
“Given the learnings of today, we are welcoming team members to wear the poppy pin.”
The company said as it had previously planned, it will observe a moment of silence on November 11 as well as make a donation to the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy fund.
On the other hand, many TV anchors, journalists and hosts are permitted or forced to wear poppies on-air throughout the month of November.
For example, Davide Mastracci explained on his blog,
“Mackay Taggart, the regional director of news for Ontario at Global News, sent an email to staff late last month stating that, “Poppies should be worn by all Global News anchors, reporters and radio hosts appearing on television and in online videos from Sunday November 1st to Wednesday November 11th.”
The email adds, “While there is a belief that Remembrance Day ends at noon local time on November 11, out of respect for Canadian veterans, Global News on-air employees should continue to wear poppies through early evening and late news programs on Remembrance Day.”
But the email goes even further, with Taggart stating that, “In today’s era of social media, it would also be good practice for all our personalities to be diligent and mindful of wearing a poppy when out in public.” It also notes that the company will provide employees with poppies.”Newsletter- Passage
However, can a business ban employees or force employees to wear a poppy at work?
For many, a poppy is a political symbol or philosophical belief.
As it stands now, banning or forcing employees to wear poppies is not against human rights legislation in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan or Nunavut and in the federally regulated sector because philosophical and political beliefs are not a protected ground under that legislation. However, most other provinces and territories in Canada have political beliefs as a prohibited ground for discrimination. For example, s. 13 of British Columbia’s Human Rights Code, prohibits discrimination based on a political belief in the areas of employment and membership in unions and associations.
Prince Edward Island’s human rights legislation defines the scope of “political belief.” The definition is quite restrictive and states that “political belief” means belief in the tenets of a political party that is at the relevant
time registered under section 24 of the Election Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. E-1 as evidenced by (i) membership of or contribution to that party, or (ii) open and active participation in the affairs of that party.
There must be more than just a passionate belief that something is right to come within the protection of the human rights legislation. But it is still unclear how human rights tribunals across Canada would interpret the banning of, or forcing employees to, wear poppies at work.
In response to the Whole Foods debacle, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would make it illegal for businesses in the province to prohibit employees from wearing poppies.
Remembrance during COVID-19
Remembrance Day in several cities across provinces, territories and in the Capital will look very different this year compared to previous years due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Most jurisdictions have indicated that Remembrance Day services on November 11 will take place virtually this year to “honour and remember Canada’s Veterans while adhering to public health restrictions on large gatherings.
There will be no public services conducted for Remembrance Day at any of the cenotaphs, including the military parades or public gatherings at the cenotaphs.
That said, everybody should consult with their provincial and municipal governments for details.