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Legion closed for allowing KKK costume

In Canada on November 4, 2010 at 12:21

Legion closed for allowing KKK costume

Tamsin McMahon, National Post · Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010

Only days before Remembrance Day, the doors were bolted shut on an Eastern Ontario Royal Canadian Legion that awarded a Halloween party costume prize to a man dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member pretending to lynch a man in black face makeup.

“It’s terrible, I’ve been so upset about it all day,” said Helen Stephens, the auxiliary president of the legion branch 103 in Campbellford, near Belleville.

“It’s really the saddest thing we’ve had happen to us in a long time, and it’s all for such a trivial thing.”

But the legion’s provincial president, Ed Pigeau, said he considers it far from trivial that the legion even allowed the two men into the packed party on Saturday night. One was wearing a white headdress and a Confederate flag. He was leading the other man, his face painted black, by a noose around the neck.

The two men, Blair Crowley and Terry Nunn, apologized for the stunt, admitting it was in bad taste.

“I of all people should have known better and I feel terrible for the mistake that I made,” Mr. Nunn told the Toronto Sun. He apologized to the Toronto Police Force, where he said he was an officer for 32 years and former union legal director.

Mr. Pigeau said he received dozens of calls and emails from across the country from people shocked that the legion later awarded the men first prize for most original costume.

“For the legion to even let them in the branch was stupid,” he said. “And then to turn around and award them first prize was absolutely outrageous.”

Mr. Pigeau said he ordered the branch closed indefinitely on Wednesday and removed the branch executive pending an investigation and for “safety purposes.”

With a topic so sensitive as racially motivated public lynchings, branch members were at risk of being swarmed by angry protesters, Mr. Pigeau said local OPP officers told legion executives.

“The branch president instructed me they need to be prepared that a mob scene could take place in the branch,” he said. “There have been incidents in the past as a result of these kinds of things. The mob mentality rule could be evident. I felt it was important we err on the side of caution. I don’t want anybody in there if something happens.”

The legion’s president, Joy Herrington, issued an apology soon after the event, but Mr. Pigeau said it was likely some members of the legion executive could lose their jobs.

While he admitted closing the legion with little more than a week until Remembrance Day was an “inopportune time,” Mr. Pigeau said he had to act. “We’ve been accused in the past of not reacting quickly enough,” he said.

The weekend Halloween party drew nearly 200 people in the town of about 3,500, part of the Municipality of Trent Hills. It was organized by a member of the legion executive and a friend, who was there to help out.

This is one of the busiest times of year for the legion, with the annual poppy fund-raising drive and a Nov. 11 banquet dinner for veterans. The poppy drive has been cancelled and the dinner is on hold indefinitely, Ms. Stephens said.

“I can’t understand it,” she said. “It wasn’t our fault. It’s just a stupid Halloween dance.”

tmcmahon@nationalpost.com

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