Ontario community reverses course, will allow Pride flag to fly

Click to play video: 'Pride flag flap divides township'
Pride flag flap divides township
RELATED: A city councillor in Norwich resigned after fellow council members voted to ban pride and all other non-civic flags from flying in the township. Some members of the community believe this decision was informed by hatred. Sean O’Shea reports – May 25, 2023

After extensive controversy that garnered national attention, a small Ontario township has voted not only to allow non-government flags on civic property, but to approve the Pride flag specifically.

The Pride flag was one of 10 categories of flags that received pre-approval from Norwich Township council last week, following a decision late last year to create a township flag protocol that will allow certain flags to be flown on a special community flag pole.

Alisha Stubbs, a former councillor in the town east of London, resigned in protest last May after council voted to enact a controversial bylaw introduced by the now-retired councillor John Scholten forbidding non-government flags on municipal properties. In fact, the wording of his original motion specified that Pride and Progress banners be excluded from the town, but he amended his motion mid-meeting to state only “Canadian, Ontarian and Township banners” be allowed to fly from municipal property.

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“The reality of ongoing hate within the Norwich community cannot be ignored, and while it is heartening to witness the dedication of those who strive to address this issue, I also feel hesitant to be too joyous,” she said Wednesday.

“The community — and specific, targeted individuals — have gone through disgusting, awful, and dangerous situations as the result of hate. Each community member plays a role in fostering a community free from the shackles of hatred, and important ongoing actions will need to happen far beyond flying the flag.”

Stubbs added that Councillors Shawn Gear and Lynne DePlanke showed “unwavering persistence” on the matter and that “Oxford Pride, along with countless individuals in the Norwich community deserve a lot of praise, love, and acknowledgement.

“I hope their example inspires us all to stand united against hate and work towards a brighter, more inclusive future for whatever community we are a part of.”

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The new flag protocol will see applicants apply to have a flag of their choice flown on the community flagpole for a week. Once the application is completed, if the flag is already on the pre-approved list then staff will handle the rest. If not, if it meets all of the criteria, then it would then go to council for approval.

Gear, DePlanke and Mayor Jim Palmer voted in favour of the pre-approved flags list, with DePlanke and Palmer both referencing Scholten’s words before his retirement.

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“Councilor Scholten, when he left at the last meeting, retired, he said he was not 100 per cent dead against a community flagpole. He said, ‘This community, we need to start healing.’ And for him, that was part of the healing process, and he voted in favour of it. And I’m very proud he voted in favour of that,” DePlanke said.

Palmer said he wished the community could go back to 2021 when “we were not involved in anything like this,” but “the horse has left the barn.”

“I know that there will be people unhappy. I know that in the last election when I ran, I said that I wanted to find a way that we could satisfy most people. I know there’s people on the right and people on the left, and the extremes are never going to be happy, but maybe they can live with this. We’re looking at only a period of seven days for a flag,” he said.

“I’m going to support with John Scholten. He was very brave in what he did.”

However, Councillor Adrian Couwenberg expressed frustration at the approval of the community flagpole in the first place.

“This is the murky waters that I wish that we do not have to get involved with, because we do spend a lot of time on it. So I always have to say no to every flag that’s flown. Not that I don’t disagree with it, I just don’t want to get involved in it. Now also Norwich council going forward, we have to say yes. If we have it when we say yes to a community flagpole, you have to say yes to everybody or we’re going to the Human Rights Tribunal.”

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Oxford County Pride Club filed a human rights complaint last spring after council first passed the motion banning non-government flags, including Pride flags, on municipal properties. President Tami Murray says she will be meeting with her team in February to decide whether to withdraw the complaint, now that the council has voted to approve the flag.

“We are consulting with our lawyer in regard to what direction, because there’s also a trustability here. So we want to make sure that this is written in stone and that there isn’t going to be something that’s going to somehow change.”

She also admitted to being surprised “but also very elated” by the recent vote.

“This is a really good example of how community advocacy — using your voice and really promoting positivity for a marginalized group — has resulted in a really positive outcome,” Murray says. “I have to recognize the community members in Norwich, Ont., who endured ongoing violence and rhetoric, who endured their homes being destroyed, flags being stolen. I mean, these are your real heroes.”

The list of pre-approved flags:

• Netherlands Flag
• United Empire Loyalists Flag
• Truth and Reconciliation Day Flag
• United Nations Flag
• Pride Flag
• Remembrance Day Flag ~ Lest We Forget
• service clubs
• minor sports organizations (including the Norwich Merchants)
• Every Child Matters
• Black History Month

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— with a file from Global News’ Ashleigh Stewart. 

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