The hate crimes unit of the Calgary Police Service is investigating after a Confederate flag was spotted flying on a pole in the Union Cemetery on Tuesday.
Multiple people reported the hate symbol in the graveyard, located at Cemetery Road and Spiller Road S.E., to police before 7 p.m.
Someone took the Confederate flag down by the time officers arrived, and police recovered it from a garbage can.
Racism, hate and inequality
Police said the incident “is being taken very seriously.”
“We’ve embarked on an investigation in relation to what brought that flag to be flying in that location and the context around that,” CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said while appearing on Global News Morning Calgary on Wednesday.
Neufeld said the flag prompted a strong and understandably emotional response from Calgarians.
“That’s a particularly difficult symbol in terms of racism and hate and inequality,” he said.
“I don’t know of any good reason why that would be flying anywhere in Canada, let alone in our cemeteries.”
Neufeld said the investigation would centre around the context of why the flag was flown.
“There are sections of the Criminal Code that would make that a crime,” he explained.
“Actually possessing some of these symbols — like whether it be the Confederate flag or a swastika or whatever it might be — that in and of itself isn’t criminal. It’s sort of the context in behind that and what else is going on and what the motivation might be.
Canada has a “very high legal threshold for what is considered hate speech to protect the Charter freedoms of thought, belief and expression,” CPS said.
“At the end of the day, if your motivation is to incite hatred against an identifiable group, that can get into the realm of being criminal,” Neufeld said.
“If there’s a situation where we need to refer that to our partners at the Crown for review, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
‘Not welcome in our community’
Councillors Druh Farrell and Gian-Carlo Carra tweeted “WTF” in response to the Confederate flag image circulating online on Tuesday.
Carra was grateful for the quick response by police and bylaw officers, and said hatred and racism are not welcome in Calgary.
“I think it’s obviously an attempt to very visibly desecrate the Union Cemetery and to spread fear and hatred directed at our BIPOC community, who council and the police service have stood in solidarity with declaring that we acknowledge systemic racism is a real thing,” he told Global News on Tuesday night.
“Obviously, there are people in the city of Calgary who are not only displeased that we’re committing to address systemic racism but they feel like being overtly racist is an appropriate response, and it is absolutely not.
“It is hateful, and it is not welcome in our community.”
Carra said the city has to get a “tighter handle” on 311 procedures, saying it “did not give a particularly effective response” when people dialled the catch-all information and referral service.
“I think we obviously have to look at our flagpole protocols and make sure that not just anyone can approach any flagpole in the city of Calgary and hoist whatever they want,” he said.
The Anti-Defamation League defines the Confederate flag as a hate symbol.
“Organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans adopted the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage but the flag also served as a potent symbol of slavery and white supremacy, which has caused it to be very popular among white supremacists in the 20th and 21st centuries,” it explains on its website.
“This popularity extends to white supremacists beyond the borders of the United States.”
– With files from Melissa Gilligan, Global News