Councillor resigns after Ontario township officially bans all non-civic flags

Rainbow and transgender flags waving in a close-up abstract view during a Pride parade. Getty Images

A councillor in the township of Norwich, Ont., has resigned after council voted to enact a controversial bylaw forbidding non-government flags, including Pride flags, on municipal properties.

Ward 2 Coun. Alisha Stubbs announced her immediate resignation Tuesday night in protest of the council’s decision to support the bylaw at the end of the meeting in the rural southwestern Ontario community located east of London.

“I refuse to participate in this any longer, to the dog whistles and blatant discrimination, and to the hypocrisy of decisions made for peace while many citizens feel fear,” said Stubbs in her resignation as she packed her possessions.

“Use your power for good,” she continued.

“When you hear of people in our community that feel unsafe, believe them. Just like you always believe the people who say that the roads are a mess. Be the helpers. Use your power in these positions to instill change. Be courageous to challenge the status quo, kindness and compassion and knowledge save lives. Read more, learn more and then do better.”

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Click to play video: 'Pride Flag debate at Catholic school board meeting boils over'
Pride Flag debate at Catholic school board meeting boils over

The controversial debate first drew in large opposing crowds from across Oxford County to council’s meeting chambers last month. Amid boos from those present in the public gallery, council voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve the flag ban, with Mayor Jim Palmer breaking the tie.

Speaking with Global News on Wednesday morning, Stubbs said that she had her resignation speech prepared prior to the council’s ruling.

“I had a pretty good idea where three of the councillors, including the mayor, stood and so I had prepared because what I’m not prepared to do is share a space with people of power that make decisions in ill faith,” she said.

She added that she is extremely disappointed by some of the decisions made by her now-former colleagues.

“The entire job of council is to work for the community and when you pander to one group, and you don’t work for the community, you’re not doing your job,” said Stubbs, describing what the past couple of weeks have been like for those in the community.

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“We know that this is not a new issue for Norwich [and] that bigotry has run strong here since the beginning of time. But what happens is that when these things come to light, and when you have people in power, some of the most powerful people in the township, to make decisions, acting and pandering to groups who base a lot of decisions on bigotry, the sense of the community is one of trauma.

“With the majority of council having the inability to take research and factual information into consideration about these things, the next steps which are already in motion are you know from community members reaching out to the Integrity Commissioner,” Stubbs said.

The controversial decision has been met with immense backlash from LGBTQ2 community supporters, pushing Tami Murray, president of the Oxford County Pride Committee, to file another Ontario human rights complaint.

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“Now that the bylaw is written, we will be making another complaint because this is ridiculous,” Murray told Global News Wednesday,

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Stubbs said that “at this point, many people are left with only being able to go the legal route, because all the other routes have been unsuccessful.”

Murray added her frustrations towards the recently passed motion.

“If you watch the council meeting, it was sadly chaotic,” she said. “This bylaw has so many loopholes and the unfortunate event at the end of it is the loss of Alisha Stubbs as a councillor. We’re really disappointed and we’re really hoping that given the feedback that they’ve gotten, which has been enormous to support the pride flags, they’re still deciding to be discriminatory and homophobic.

Murray added that she agrees with Stubbs’s decision to resign, saying that “given the context of what she’s been through recently, ethically, I don’t think that she can stand with this township Council given the bias and discrimination demonstrated.”

“It was clear last night when Mayor Palmer wanted to defer the bylaw again for further legal consultations, and when Alisha (Stubbs) pointed out that if they delay it we will be able to hang pride progress flags throughout the month of June, they promptly said they needed to vote on it tonight,” she said Tuesday. “They’re really showing their cards at the end of the day. This is not about anything but a progress Pride flag.”

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Only federal, provincial and municipal flags are allowed to be flown under the new bylaw as it states that “the township has an obligation to maintain neutrality.”

Besides government flags, the only other banners allowed to be installed on township property, including streetlight poles, are those promoting downtown businesses and downtown beautification.

Ward 1 Coun. John Scholten first proposed the bylaw earlier this year, saying that he believes civic flags best represent all groups of people.

Click to play video: 'How the Pride flag came to be and how it continues to evolve'
How the Pride flag came to be and how it continues to evolve

While Stubbs argued Tuesday that the bylaw unfairly targets pride flags and symbols, other councillors countered that the bylaw should be accepted on the grounds of political neutrality.

“We just want to stay politically, religiously and culturally neutral,” said Ward 4 Coun. Adrian Couwenberg, who voted to support the motion.

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Initially, a portion of the bylaw stated that the municipality’s junior and minor hockey teams would be allowed at the community centre and an exemption would also be made for flags of foreign dignitaries. However, all councillors took issue with the section, removing it before the final vote.

Along with Stubbs, Ward 3 Coun. Shawn Gear also voted against the bylaw, expressing his concerns that this will “open the floodgates” for Norwich and how the community will be perceived going forward.

“By doing this we also open ourselves up to losing sponsorships and potential funds because their [businesses’] values don’t align with ours,” he said. “We need to find a better direction here.”

Additionally, Gear questioned the specific phrasing of the bylaw, wondering if those who put yard sale signs or small business ads on township property will be fined.

“Say I’ve got a child that goes out and wants to advertise grass cutting and they put up a banner on a local street pole. Does that then open up him or her up for a potential charge for not following the bylaws?”

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Neither the mayor nor other council members were able to answer the question.

Following the decision to exclude Pride and other non-civic flags from being flown on city property, council also voted last month against a motion that would proclaim June as Pride month in the municipality beginning this summer.

Despite that, the broader county that Norwich is part of said it is not following in the township’s footsteps, vowing to take the opposite approach, according to Oxford County Warden Marcus Ryan.

Going back to Stubbs, she said that while her days with council may be over, she hopes that her time will inspire future change.

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“One person doesn’t change the world, and so I think that when we can all make little dents, whether it’s my seven months of council that makes a little dent, or folks having Pride marches, or hanging a progress flag, they may seem little on their own [but] together create some big change,” she said.

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