The City of Yellowknife flew flags at half-mast outside City Hall on Wednesday, the day of former US President George Bush’s funeral in Washington, DC.

The flags of Canada, the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation were all lowered on Wednesday morning.

The City had earlier explained on Twitter that the flags would be at half-mast out of respect for the late president.

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“City flags will be flown at half mast on Wednesday December 5 from sunrise to sunset for the day of the funeral of the late George H.W. Bush, who passed away on November 30, 2018,” read Tuesday’s tweet.

The message, also posted on Facebook, caused consternation among some residents.

“I’m an American in Yellowknife and I think this is bonkers,” wrote Jessica Wang in response to the City’s Facebook post, contrasting Bush’s conservative views on sexual identity and the rights of same-sex couples with the City’s recent raising of a transgender flag.

Many other commenters found it hard to understand why the City would feel sufficient connection to Bush to warrant a northern Canadian municipality lowering its flags for a former US leader.

Bush did visit the Northwest Territories – a former editor of the now-defunct Deh Cho Drum recalled exchanging letters with Bush and even publishing a fishing column of his after the 41st president came north to fish – but could not be described as having any form of formal or lasting relationship with the territory.

Following the feds

Asked by Cabin Radio to explain why City Hall had lowered its flags, a spokesperson made reference to the federal Department of Canadian Heritage’s instruction that federal buildings lower their flags in Bush’s honour on Wednesday.

The City has a flag protocol which specifies six reasons for lowering its flags, as follows:

  • the death of the Sovereign or member of the Royal Family;
  • the death of the Prime Minister or a former Prime Minister;
  • the death of a federal cabinet member;
  • the death of elected officials of the Government of the Northwest Territories;
  • the death of elected officials of the City of Yellowknife; or
  • as directed by the Mayor’s Office.

In this instance, the spokesperson said, the sixth and last reason applied – direction from the office of Mayor Rebecca Alty.

Reached by phone, Alty said the City had simply decided to follow the federal lead.

“The federal government put out a release that they would be lowering the flag on federal buildings, so the City decided to follow suit,” Alty told Cabin Radio, adding she was not aware of any more detailed connection with Bush.