Flag raises issues at City Hall

Herald file photo. The Celebrate Life Flag is pictured prior to being run up the flagpole in May 2016.

For nearly a decade, a Prince Albert pro-life group has raised a flag at City Hall as part of Celebrate Life Week, but that tradition may come to an end this year.

On Monday, Prince Albert city councillors heard a presentation from concerned residents asking for the city to take a closer look at its flag policy, and reconsider their options.

“It is a very clear case of these discriminatory symbols not belonging in front of the municipal government (building),” said Lana Wilson, who spoke to councillors during Monday’s executive committee. “The Prince Albert city council does have a flag policy that they can simply choose to enforce, or not, as the case may be,”

In 2016, Wilson helped spearhead a protest to have the flag removed after it was raised on May 9, 2016. She also helped circulate a petition that gathered more than 600 signatures from people inside and outside of Prince Albert asked that the flag be taken down.

On Monday, Wilson wondered why the decision to raise the flag was not brought to a vote before council. According to the City of Prince Albert Flag Protocol Policy, flags can only be flown to help increase public awareness for charitable and non-profit organizations, or to honour organizations that have achieved national or international distinction or contributed or enhanced the community in a positive manner.

According to section 6.05 (c), all requests from commercial, political or religious organizations require the approval of city council.

“It in many ways is my hope that some issues like this will go to full city council (meetings), because clearly there is a disagreement between the mayor and certain councillors on this issue,” Wilson said. “It will be interesting to see whether the councillors assist the mayor in complying with their own flag policy on this issue.”

Wilson added that she doesn’t use the term discrimination lightly, and said the flag is harmful and intimidating to women in Prince Albert. She also forwarded notes from R V Morgentaler, a 1988 Supreme Court decision which ruled that prohibiting abortion was unconstitutional, and in violation of section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mayor Greg Dionne objected to Wilson’s argument, saying the issue is one of free speech.

“I am Canadian, and I strongly believe in freedom of speech and freedom of rights,” he said. “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. There are lots of things that I see out there in the world that I don’t like, and I just ignore it.”

Dionne acknowledged that the situation was a touchy one, but added he would be just as willing to raise a pro-choice flag too.

“If they want to put their flag up, bring it up and we’ll put it up,” he said.

Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller, and Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha were the two most vocal critics of the mayor’s flag stance.

During the meeting, Miller constantly questioned why the mayor was not willing to enforce the city’s own flag policy. Dionne said the flag opponents had an incorrect definition of discrimination.

Botha added that while he respected people beliefs on the matter, he felt the city had no legal standing to fly such a flag.

“I think the fact is … that it’s the law of the land,” Botha said during the meeting. “It’s the same as if somebody wants to come fly a Confederate flag or an Aryan brotherhood flag in city square to celebrate European Heritage Week. We’ve got to turn them away.”

According to the city’s flag policy, the Director of Community Services is responsible for ensuring compliance with the policy. On Monday, city administrators confirmed that application had been filed to raise the flag on Celebrate Life Week in 2017.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca