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Westlock residents to vote on whether to ban Pride crosswalks, certain flags

Click to play video: 'Town of Westlock prepares for controversial bylaw vote'
Town of Westlock prepares for controversial bylaw vote
In the Alberta town of Westlock, residents will have the opportunity to vote on a proposed bylaw that would restrict what flags can be flown, and prevent the painting of Pride crosswalks. Sarah Ryan reports. – Feb 21, 2024

Residents in a small Alberta town are getting set to vote on a bylaw that would restrict how crosswalks are painted and what types of flags could be flown in the town north of Edmonton.

Last year, the Town of Westlock received a petition advocating for the implementation of a “Crosswalk and Flagpole Bylaw.”

The proposed bylaw would only allow federal, provincial and municipal flags to be flown on flagpoles on Westlock municipal property. In addition, all crosswalks in the town would have to be the standard white-striped pattern. The town’s existing rainbow-coloured crosswalk would be removed.

Flags in Westlock, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Global News

The petition for the bylaw came to town council five months after a Pride crosswalk was painted in the town.

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Westlock Mayor Jon Kramer, who was elected about a month ago, said when the request for the crosswalk came to council last spring by Thunder Alliance, a local secondary school gay-straight alliance (GSA), councillors made a data-driven decision.

“One hundred per cent of the data tells us that this is a good project,” Kramer said Wednesday. “Our federal government, our provincial government, our neighbouring municipalities, they all use their public infrastructure to promote diversity and inclusion. This project is no different.”

The crosswalk was painted on June 27.

In November, Stephanie Bakker, a petition organizer, said the effort was to keep town council “neutral” after plans were made to paint one of the crosswalks in Pride colours.

Over the summer, Bakker and the “Westlock Neutrality Team” gathered signatures from more than 700 residents, forcing town council to begin the process of adopting the proposed bylaw.

Global News reached out to Bakker and the Westlock Neutrality Team Wednesday but has not received a response.

Click to play video: 'A tale of two Prides: Alberta communities shut down hate, support LGBTQ2S+ communities'
A tale of two Prides: Alberta communities shut down hate, support LGBTQ2S+ communities

Under the Municipal Government Act, a petition for a new bylaw that has 10 per cent or more of the municipality’s population on it requires the municipal government to verify the petition and pass a first of three readings of the bylaw.

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Westlock has a population of 4,802.

After giving the bylaw first reading, council was required to either proceed with the second and third readings of the bylaw or take the decision to a municipal vote.

“When that bylaw came to council in November, council unanimously defeated that bylaw… It’s a bad bylaw,” Kramer said. “But according to the Municipal Government Act, we only had two options: either pass the bylaw or put it to a town vote. So it’s come to a town vote.

“As elected officials, this has been a challenging six months for us.”

Kramer said members of council have been out in the community, encouraging residents to vote against the bylaw and defeat it. He said part of that work also includes educating residents on the benefits of inclusion.

“Change is hard for people,” he said. “But again, this is the role of elected officials, is just to help the community figure out what do we believe in, what are we going to stand for. And as a council we’re confident that our community will stand tall tomorrow.”

The vote will happen on Thursday at Westlock & District Community Hall from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. People must be at least 18 years old to vote, a Canadian citizen and a resident of Westlock. People must bring valid ID with them to vote.

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The vote is a simple majority wins.

“The residents will have their say. They will get to choose whether this bylaw’s on the books or not,” Kramer said. “The important thing we’ve been communicating to our community is that our commitment to inclusion doesn’t waver in any way.

“We have multiple avenues to move ahead with inclusion and showing them that they belong. Whether it’s crosswalks or flags are off the books, there’s lots of options out there.”

Kramer anticipates results of the vote to be posted on the town’s website around 10 p.m. Thursday.

Westlock is locate about an hour’s drive north of Edmonton.

A vote will happen in Westlock Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 on whether to get rid of the town’s Pride crosswalk and restrict the types of flags that can be flown in the town north of Edmonton. Global News

— with files from Adam Toy, Global News.

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