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Veteran Affairs ‘March holidays’ social media post sparks backlash

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

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

A second post that specifically wished followers a happy Easter went live 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 statutory holidays in March.

A social media post by Veteran Affairs Canada reads: "We want to wish veterans, current mebers of the Canadian forces and RCMP and their families a happy March holiday season."
A social media post by Veteran Affairs Canada sparked backlash for wishing Canadians a ‘happy March holiday season.’ (X)

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

But by the time the Easter wishes landed, people had flooded the Friday post on X 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 wording here Vets Canada! Maybe say Happy Easter!” wrote one X user.

“Huh? Are we not allowed to say Easter in Canada?” wrote another.

Post called ‘outrageous’ and ‘shameful’

Pollster Angus Reid also weighed in, commenting: “This retreat to banal secularism displays a lack of respect for the many faiths that define much of the diversity and source of identity in Canada. Yet another federal miscalculation in communications.”

Other commenters called the post outrageous, shameful and insulting.

The department’s internal communications show that staff were taking note of the “dumpster fire.”

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

The response: “That has been the (government of Canada) approach 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 Easter was not mentioned on Good Friday.

Early draft included mentions of multiple holidays

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 statutory holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador but not in the rest of the country. Ramadan began this year on March 10 and ended April 9, the equinox was March 19 and Purim was March 23 to 24.

The department ultimately shared a post on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, about the Irish Regiment of Canada. It did not mark any of the other holidays.

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

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 it might be helpful to explain which other holidays the department had in mind, the communications team lead responded to say, “I would suggest less is more on this one in particular.”

Another member of the communications team agreed, saying, “We wouldn’t want to then be fielding questions about why no specific posts on the other holidays.”

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