Prince Albert’s courtesy flagpole has flown its last flag.
On Monday, city council voted by a slim 5-4 margin to strike sections 6.02(b), 6.04(a), 6.04(c), 6.05 and 6.07, from the city’s Flag Protocol Policy. The decision comes into effect immediately, and means community clubs, non-profits, charities and special interest groups will not be allowed to fly flags in Memorial Square. Instead, only municipal, provincial, national, Treaty 6 and Métis flags will be flown.
Mayor Greg Dionne brought the motion before council in an attempt to head off a legal challenge from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Rights over the right to fly a pro-life flag. Dionne said removing the courtesy flagpole wasn’t he preference, but he couldn’t justify paying the legal fees to keep it going.
“It’s sad that we had to do this, but as the keeper of the purse, I don’t think that we should be using taxpayer’s dollars to fight a case when we give it away to the community freely,” he explained on Monday. “(The courtesy flagpole) was only used about 10 weeks, legitimately, of the year by other organizations, and we can still get them their advertising and what they require by doing a proclamation.”
Reaction to the mayor’s proposal was mixed, with several councillors voicing concerns about how the decision would affect other organizations in the city.
Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha said he understood the legal costs involved, but urged council not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater on this purely because of one interest group.” Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller also declined to support the motion on the grounds that the courtesy flag policy had not been properly followed.
Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp also voted against the motion, largely due to the lack of community consultation.
“There are many groups in our city who utilize the courtesy flagpole for their causes,” Lennox-Zepp said in an interview on Tuesday. “Before making a decision like this, I think it would be prudent to consult with the groups who do use it to determine if we should remove the courtesy flagpole or if there’s value to our city to keep it.”
Although four city councillors joined Dionne in voting for the motion, only Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick spoke in favour of it.
Like Dionne, Ogrodnick said he’d prefer to keep courtesy flags flying in Memorial Square, but added that current disagreements made it difficult to support the policy.
“Unfortunately in this chamber and in this community, not all of us agree on the flags that we’re being asked to fly,” he said.
The city’s flag policy came under close scrutiny in 2016 when Prince Albert Right to Life Association, a group opposed to abortion, received permission to fly the Right to Life flag, which pictured a cartoon fetus called Umberto the Unborn. That was not the first year the flag was flown, however, opponents of the decision later organized a protest and filed a petition with City Hall to have it taken down, arguing that the flag was discriminatory and anti-woman.
In 2017, Prince Albert Right to Life was told they could not fly a flag unless they chose a more neutral design. As a result, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on Nov. 2, 2017, arguing that the city’s position denied Right to Life’s right to free expression.