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B.C. prisoners pitching in to keep memory of wartime sacrifices alive

Inmates at the William Head Institution on Vancouver Island make annual donations
Inmates at the William Head Institution show off their Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91 poppy box. Since at least 2016, inmates at the institution have been making donations to the West Shore Legion’s poppy campaign. (Courtesy of William Head Institution)

Every year, Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country receive thousands of donations from people from all walks of life who want to do their part to support the country’s veterans.

For more than six years, the West Shore’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91 has received donations from what many would consider an unlikely source: inmates at the William Head Institution in Metchosin.

“The first time I got this donation from William Head, I thought it was from someone called William, but it wasn’t, it was the correctional institution,” said poppy fund treasurer Ervin Kobialko. “Their first was around $170, and they have continued it each year. Last year was $561, I just about flipped.”

According to a statement from the Correctional Service of Canada, prisoners contributing to the Legion’s poppy fund is an annual tradition followed at many institutions across the country. At William Head, many of the inmates have either served in the Canadian Armed Forces or have relatives who have.

Each year, the institution’s Inmate Wellness Committee gets a poppy box from the West Shore branch, with inmates donating as they see fit, with the donations then being passed back to the Legion after Nov. 11. The funds come from the inmates’ employment at the institution, which averages $5.80 per day of work, and from contributions from friends or family outside the institution.

Inmates’ money is held in an institutional trust in their name and donations are made by the inmate signing a form allowing the institution to take funds from the account and donate it to the poppy campaign.

Kobialko said the inmates’ contributions have added up to $2,085 since 2016, a contribution he said was well worth celebrating in the community, especially when every penny contributed to the campaign helps support the work the Legion does for veterans and their families in the community.

“They probably don’t have much funds over there, but they still donate something.”

READ MORE: Poppy campaign kicks off on the West Shore


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Justin Samanski-Langille

About the Author: Justin Samanski-Langille

I moved coast-to-coast to discover and share the stories of the West Shore, joining Black Press in 2021 after four years as a reporter in New Brunswick.
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