Veterans Affairs Post on ‘March Break’: ‘By Trying to Be Apolitical We Became Political’

OTTAWA – After a deluge of angry comments, Veterans Affairs Canada staff found themselves working over Easter weekend this year, struggling to explain why one of the department’s social media posts actually didn’t mentioned the holiday.

The March 29 (Good Friday) post wished people a “happy March holiday season,” prompting hundreds of questions online about what exactly constitutes the March holiday.

A second post specifically wishing followers a happy Easter was posted two days later, on Easter Sunday.

Aside from Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which fall on different days each year and sometimes in April, there are no federally recognized legal holidays in March.

Internal documents released through an access to information request show that both releases were scheduled in advance.

But by the time the Easter wishes came in, people had flooded X’s Friday post with angry comments about the apparent exclusion of Easter.

As of Thursday, the post had been viewed 2.9 million times and there were more than 4,800 comments.

“Terrible writing here, Vets Canada! Maybe we’ll say Happy Easter! wrote a user

“Huh? We’re not allowed to celebrate Easter in Canada?” wrote another.

Pollster Angus Reid also weighed in, commenting: “This retreat towards banal secularism shows a lack of respect for the many religions that define much of the diversity and source of identity in Canada. “Another federal miscalculation in communications.”

Other commenters called the post scandalous, embarrassing and insulting.

Internal department communications show staff were taking note of the “dumpster fire.”

In text messages on March 30, members of the communications team discussed online concerns, with one staffer saying, “I think in trying to be apolitical we became political.”

The response: “That has been the approach (of the Canadian government) and we are seeing it in the comments.”

At least one media outlet sent a request for clarification, asking what the March holiday season was and why there was no mention of Easter on Good Friday.

An early draft of the post lists hashtags recognizing Easter, Ramadan, Purim, St. Patrick’s Day and the spring equinox.

St. Patrick’s Day is a legal holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador, but not in the rest of the country. Ramadan began this year on March 10 and ended on April 9; The equinox was March 19; and Purim was March 23 and 24.

Finally, the department shared a post on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, about the Canadian Irish Regiment. He didn’t mark any of the other holidays.

The list of holidays was removed from the final version and a photo of two members of the Armed Forces preparing Easter dinner was added.

Communications staff decided not to include the list in their response to reporters’ questions.

When staff in the deputy minister’s office emailed to suggest that it might be helpful to explain what other holidays the department had in mind, the communications team leader responded: “I would suggest that less is more on this particular one.”

Another member of the communications team agreed, saying, “We wouldn’t like to answer questions about why there are no specific posts on the other holidays.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2024.

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