By Greg Price
After less than eight months into when Flag Protocol Policy C-9 was adopted, it has already been scrapped by town council earlier this month.
Previous council passed Flag Protocol Policy C-9 in late June 2017 to address the desire for community groups and organizations to celebrate their events in the community with their own flags. The policy and its respective procedure were built on a number of existing flag policies from across Canada, and encompasses the flag protocols from the federal and provincial governments. Under the policy, requests for guest flags to be flown on the Community Flag Pole were subject to the sole discretion of council for approval.
The policy was scrapped on the heels of council voting 5-1 to deny the Taber Equality Alliance’s request to fly the Pride flag for their 2018 celebrations, and has ordered the Confederation Park flag pole removed as the designated Community Flag Pole.
I have made it abundantly clear I consider myself an ally with past personal columns I have written, and even I thought the TEA was overshooting asking that the Pride Flag be flown for the whole month of June. Given the Pride Flag being flown at all last year passed by the slimmest of 4-3 votes, the proceeding days where the flag was not vandalized once, but twice and some disturbing comments I have heard personally circulate throughout the community, I thought baby steps first. Perhaps just for the day of their celebration or the week would mark steps forward for a group that has been met with hostility, but as it has been shown, we are once again taking steps back.
There was little council discussion (in open session anyway) involving the decision to deny the request when it was granted with the last council, other than Coun. Carly Firth being the sole vote in opposition. I really hope it was not driven by some information provided by administration of “following the double vandalism of the Pride Flag in 2017, considerations as to the safety and security of property and people must be taken into consideration.”
The Pride Flag was stolen and then vandalized on one occasion, and then shortly after a second flag rose, it was burned. Apparently, committing crimes against a minority group is now the way to ensure your viewpoints are listened to as an effective way in getting your point across to council apart from more traditional avenues. Fear and hate should not dictate municipal policy.
I could sort of see this coming from comments I have heard in the community and by council.
There were a few on council earlier in the month that all the sudden had a burst of patriotism, inquiring why the Canadian flag wasn’t being flown on the Community Flag Pole ‘365 days a year’, some of which were also on council last term and seemed to have no issues before on the barren flag pole at the time.
Even more troubling were comments from a town councilman/Taber Police Commission member when Taber Police Service presented its findings in a diversity SWOT Analysis gathering information from the Filipino Society of Taber, First Nations-Metis-Inuit, Low German Mennonite Community and the TEA.
“Do those diversity groups want to be recognized as a specific diversity group, rather than a group that’s integrated into society?” questioned Coun. Joe Strojwas, one of two town council representatives on the TMPC. “Why would I stand in the middle of the street and put a sign up that I am whatever? Wouldn’t they get further in the world if they integrated and became part of the group, rather than a special diverse group?”
“It was just that in his presentation there, it was like they were pointing to themselves that they want to be acknowledged as being – and maybe it’s just the way that I interpret it – that they want to be acknowledged as a diverse group themselves. I was just wondering why they would want to be acknowledged as a separate group, and why they wouldn’t want to just blend in.”
I have no idea if the comment was directed at one particular group in the focus group, or all the groups noted, either way, the question has to be begged…whose or what group benchmark are we adhering to, to integrate or ‘blend in?’
We have the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in place. Canada prides itself at home and abroad as a country made up of a cultural mosaic rather than a cultural melting pot. The mosaic is based on our belief that Canada as a whole becomes stronger by having immigrants bring with them their cultural diversity for all Canadians to learn from.
We already have ways that people do indeed have to blend in with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the English Common Law model we follow.
To cite Randy Levine and Gifty Serbeh-Dunn, from a cultural perspective, the Canadian legal system takes the`melting pot’ approach, which is to say that culturally unique methods of dispute resolution are not accepted by our legal system.
Instead, our legal system imposes its values on all who come before it. A person may immigrate from another country which abuses and sees women as second-class citizens from the country they came from, but that doesn’t fly here.
If someone is asking ‘why would I stand in the middle of the street and put a sign up that I am whatever,’ does that apply to the people who have Pro Life or Pro-Choice signs on themselves during the annual Life Chain event? Of course it shouldn’t.
Pro-Life in its view point is campaigning for the rights of the unborn, just as the TEA is campaigning for the equal rights and respect for the LGBTQ community. Or once again…is it only certain targeted groups that need to ‘fit in?’
The flag would have not been affecting any flag whatsoever that flew in front of the administration building.
The Pride Flag would not have been a permanent fixture anywhere in town. There were plenty of vetting processes already engrained in the previous flag protocol policy. This is nothing new in Canadian history with documented after documented case of numerous political, policing and military organizations having flown the Pride Flag for a short duration of time, yet somehow it is Taber that sees it as a hot-potato topic of us ‘all being equal’, often spoken by a subgroup who has never had to endure any trials and tribulations being the majority of a certain demographic.
The LGBTQ group just saw its beacon of hope vandalized twice. Sponsored by Horizon School Division, Dr. Kristopher Wells was on hand earlier this month to offer LGBTQ 101: Supporting Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at the Taber Police Station Dreaddy Room for a two-hour seminar. In his travels across Canada, he has mentioned receiving death threats numerous times for the work he does to help the LGBTQ community.
I’ve heard many comments in the community that align with ‘I accept them, but why do they have to shove it down our throats. I don’t want to see it or read about it.’ So you accept something…just as long as you never ever have to be exposed to it. That doesn’t sound very accepting.
The TEA tried to blend in by exercising their democratic rights just like anyone else is afforded by posing questions to people who were running for council and the mayoral chair. A very-small fraction of those running took the time to answer the TEA’s questions (that were submitted in plenty of time before the election) so that they could make an informed vote…a ratio that would have been much higher and afforded to majority groups in town.
Do all these numerous concrete examples adhere to the ‘we are all equal under the Canadian flag’ mantra you hear some on previous council naively say in their reasoning to deny the flag request?
‘You’re forcing acceptance on us and stories about the LGBTQ community is dominating the pages of the Taber Times’ is another refrain I’ve heard.
How are stories about the TEA or my columns ‘forcing acceptance?’ Don’t like the story or column, don’t read it, no one is forcing you. Don’t like what the Pride Flag stands for? Don’t look at it. Don’t attend the Pride Day. Give the cold shoulder to any business or friend you discover is ‘gasp,’ gay. Disown your family members for those who they choose to kiss if that makes you feel better with your religion, it’s a free country. Practice your own personal life any way you wish that is legal.
But that is not the notion we as a nation should be adhering to as a whole in our mosaic to the voice of free people.
Fear and hate should not be the societal norm.
I can give you access to our archives and take a look at this past year’s issues of the Taber Times. Check out the number of references in pictures and articles of the TEA or LGBTQ and you will find it probably amounts to less than one per cent of total stories/columns written. That is in no way, shape or form dominating coverage, and yet because any story or picture involving this group is seen as discerning by some, a false narrative is being given in this quest for ‘equality.’
How can everyone be ‘integrated and became part of the group’ when many people in this community do not want to even acknowledge this group of citizens exists? Are they supposed to hide in the shadows or pretend they are something else to ‘blend in?’
Movements like Pride flags/parades/days or Black Lives Matter in no way are saying other lives do not matter or asking for special rights. It is simply trying to bring to people’s attention exactly how little certain lives matter with concrete statistics and examples in a society where we are all supposed be treated equally by the powers that be.
If people choose to be blind to this, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I encourage council, administration, and those leery of the event to attend Pride Day fully in Taber in June to expand your horizons. There you will hear of the struggles many of your very own citizens have had to endure, while also building some camaraderie in fellowship with the LGBTQ and ally community itself as we learn about each other.
And for people who do attend the day, nothing is stopping you on the day to wear Pride flags yourself, or decorate the facilities you have rented out for the day to let the LGBTQ community know that you do acknowledge their existence in a positive way in a spirit of an inclusive society.
For the Canadian spirit is not only forged in its cloth of its native flag, but the positive ideals it is supposed to represent as well.