Skip to main content

The federal government has bought millions of Canadian flag pins to distribute to boost national pride, including on Remembrance Day, from China.

The Department of Canadian Heritage has acknowledged that more than six million plastic and metal Canadian-flag lapel pins it has bought since 2020 – at a cost of $345,000 – were all made in China.

It is one of a number of government departments ordering Canadian flags and pins from China, or from Canadian companies that source products from Chinese manufacturers.

Last month, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he believed there is a Western consensus forming about “de-coupling” or reducing trade with China and other regimes that do not share similar values.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, also in October, said Canada should embrace “friend-shoring” by ending dependency on authoritarian states such as China for vital products and standing up for other democracies being bullied by Beijing.

Tony Baldinelli, the Conservative tourism critic, told The Globe and Mail that the flag is a national symbol and should be produced here.

He said he was shocked to find that Canadian flag pins he was given by the government to hand out, including on Remembrance Day, came in plastic bags with a “made in China” symbol.

“Surely at a time when Canadian businesses are struggling to recover from a two-year-long pandemic, our Canadian government could procure these pins from Canadian manufacturers,” he said.

Among the departments that buy flag pins made in China is Natural Resources Canada. It spent $1,000 on 700 enamel Canada flag pins through a Canadian vendor in the past two years.

The department said the contract achieved “the best value for money,” in a reply to a parliamentary question from Mr. Baldinelli.

Canadian Heritage said that most of the six million Canadian-flag plastic pins it bought from China will be distributed to members of Parliament and senators to hand out. They are also handed out at public events organized by Canadian Heritage, such as Flag Day on Feb. 15.

It says it tries as much as possible to buy promotional materials from Canadian companies, but it is bound by international trade rules that prevent it from giving preference to Canadian companies for goods worth more than $100,000. It also said it needs to provide value for money.

“Approximately one million national flag of Canada plastic lapel pins and 14,000 floating flag of Canada pins are distributed annually,” said Caroline Czajkowski, a spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage. “The procurement of six million pins took place over the last two fiscal years to replenish stock and cover multiple years of distribution.”

Veterans Affairs Canada, which plays an important role in this week’s Remembrance Day events, said it is “not able to confirm” whether hundreds of pins it bought this year to distribute at commemorative events in Europe – including the 80th anniversary of the Dieppe raid and the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge – were manufactured in Canada or China. It said it buys pins featuring the Canadian flag from a Canadian supplier selling goods manufactured in both countries.

Several federal departments, including Indigenous Services Canada, which spent $2,900 on 122 Canadian flags over the past two years, do not track where the Canadian flags and flag pins they buy are made.

Global Affairs Canada, which represents Canada abroad, said it buys Canadian flags and lapel pins from three Canadian flag and souvenir stores that sell products produced in Canada and “imported from foreign countries.”

Spokeswoman Patricia Skinner said the department “continues to promote the procurement of 100% Canadian made flags and pins, when possible.”