Councillor explains flag-raising motion

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Municipal staff and members of the IODE gather to raise the organization’s flag at the Civic Centre this past fall.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Depending on what direction council takes, a new civic flag raising policy could be in the works for Chatham-Kent.

But some members of council – including Mayor Darrin Canniff – are happy with the status quo.

The issue has risen to the fore following a motion by North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville at the April 3 council meeting. Jubenville wants to see only government flags flown at Chatham-Kent’s civic centres in order to avoid what she calls discrimination against some groups.

It means that the Canadian flag, the Ontario flag and the Chatham-Kent flag would be the only flags flying at municipally owned sites, including the Chatham Civic Centre.

Jubenville said she brought the matter forward after a request from the Life in Motion group who wanted the municipality to fly a flag in May to honour mothers in conjunction with Mother’s Day.

According to the Life in Motion Chatham Kent website the group is the education branch of Right to Life Kent, a pro-life anti-abortion advocacy organization. The non-profit is also linked to Refuge, stating it exists to provide links to services for those dealing with unplanned pregnancy and euthanasia.

Jubenville said she thought flying the Life in Motion flag was a “great idea,” adding she’s aware of the group’s mission but has no official affiliation with it.

“Why not?” Jubenville asked, when questioned by The Voice about why the Life in Motion flag wasn’t raised. “As far as I know, we fly all flags, so why not that one?”

Jubenville said she was told the municipality did not respond to Life in Motion organizers and she has a problem with that.

“By ignoring that request, those people have been alienated or discriminated against because they weren’t given a chance,” Jubenville explained. “This has been a big discernment for me. The policy has to be equitable for everyone. I just want everyone to get along and be respectful of each other’s differences.”

But the newly elected councillor also said that “not everyone agrees” with all of the flags that are currently flown.

Jubenville said she’d like to see a policy developed that would see all flags flown as long as they do not incite hate or discrimination. She’d also like to see policy created instead of the decision-making being left solely to the mayor’s office, which is what she said she learned after following up on the request.

“I’m not comfortable when any one person makes a unilateral decision,” she added. “Say yes to all or no to all.”

Chatham-Kent has a long-standing tradition of raising flags to raise awareness and mark special events and campaigns of various groups and causes. Black History Month, Pride Week, Truth & Reconciliation Week and various mental health and veteran’s campaigns are commemorated through flag raisings.

According to Canniff, Chatham-Kent’s current guidelines surrounding flag raisings simply “follow tradition” and are not meant to be controversial.

“We do not have a policy in place,” Canniff said, adding flag raising requests normally come to top management staff for approval.

But he said that if council wants to adopt a flag raising policy, that’s what will happen.

“If council would like a policy, then maybe it’s appropriate,” Canniff said. “So be it.”

He said the municipality receives numerous requests and not all of them are approved.

Chatham-Kent’s isn’t the only Ontario municipality currently dealing with the flag issue. A councillor in Norwich in Oxford County has brought a similar motion forward following controversy surrounding the flying of Pride flags in the community.

The matter will return to council April 24. The motion needs a seconder in order to be put forward for discussion and possible action.

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