The flagpoles aren’t coming down any time soon, but several Yellowknife city councillors want to stop flying the flags of nations other than Canada outside City Hall.
Concerns have been raised about the City of Yellowknife’s practice of flying flags at half mast for certain occasions – for example, on the day of George HW Bush’s funeral – and flying the flags of other countries at geopolitically sensitive times.
In late October, City Hall flew the Turkish flag to mark Turkish Republic Day – just as Turkey advanced into north-eastern Syria following the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from the Syria-Turkey border.
“We definitely got some input and feedback from the community, and just confusion because the timing was so off,” Councillor Shauna Morgan recalled. “Of course, there’s no connection – the request [was] from the local Turkish native community to celebrate their heritage and culture, their contribution to Canada – but of course, that’s what people think when they see the Turkish flag.”
Morgan wants to stop flying other countries’ flags at City Hall, to avoid any appearance of the City wading into matters of foreign policy and nationalism.
“I think we can find other ways to celebrate the cultures and heritage of many different people within this city than flying a national flag,” she said. “That is hard to interpret as anything except directly supporting that country’s current or historical policies, which is not something we want or need to get into at City Hall.”
While the City has a flag protocol already in place – which specifies six reasons flags may be lowered to half mast – councillors on Monday discussed whether further rules are needed for flags and their accompanying proclamations.
Niels Konge said he would do away with the raising of other countries’ flags, while Cynthia Mufandaedza asked administration to examine how the issue is handled in other jurisdictions.
“Sometimes we’ve seen flags that we don’t generally agree on with, say, the human rights record of a certain country,” she said.
Councillor Rommel Silverio supported the practice, citing how meaningful the raising of the Filipino flag each June is to his own community in Yellowknife.
“I think we need to continue to do that because it holds us very close to each other. We have differences but, you know, when you entered Canada, everybody needs to respect everyone,” he said.
Stopping the practice would be going backward, Silverio argued, citing a motion in the House of Commons – passed unanimously in 2018 – declaring June to be Filipino Heritage Month.
Other municipalities, such as Yorkton, Saskatchewan, have done away with similar practices. Yorkton’s council voted in 2017 to stop raising any flags at city hall other than the city’s official flags.
Flying in frigid temperatures outside Yellowknife’s municipal headquarters on Monday was the Métis flag – which Konge said was a great idea. And despite landing in hot water over his opposition to flying a rainbow-themed Canadian flag in 2014, Konge reaffirmed his support on Monday for flying the pride flag. He also suggested flying flags of the provinces and territories.
Pause on proclamations?
In terms of flying flags at half mast, the City of Yellowknife said it generally follows the NWT government’s lead. In the case of Bush’s half-mast tribute, plans to lower flags came from the federal level, the City said. Maintaining the practice of following the NWT government’s lead was largely supported on Monday.
The raising of a certain flag is usually accompanied by a written proclamation acknowledging and supporting a cause. Morgan said the proclamations, and designating days in support of a certain cause, should be axed.
“Maybe at some point in history, the idea of having a special day of the year recognized for something was noticed and unique,” she said, “but now it’s become so saturated that every day is ‘something awareness day’ and no one’s really paying attention to any of them.
“It’s silly to imagine that by us writing it out on the big scroll and reading it out at one council meeting, we’re really doing an effective job of raising awareness in the community.”
Councillor Julian Morse said a protocol should be in place for proclamations, to avoid certain community groups feeling slighted when other groups ask for and receive proclamations. He cited the example of Indigenous People’s Day, which was not declared as a proclamation while another was declared that week.
Being able to see proclamations before they come forward at council is something Morse wants instituted. “There have been times where a proclamation comes forward and we’re kind-of uncomfortably like… ‘Oh, it’s not really something I’d support…’ but, you know, it’s there on the agenda. So let’s just leave it,” he said, adding that, “most of the time, the proclamations are fine. They’re pretty benign.”
Councillors ultimately instructed City administration to look into how to govern the practices of flag-raising and proclamations, though stressing the matters were not an urgent priority.