The biggest news around City Hall this past week was the attention drawn to the flag that was raised on Monday, for Celebrate Life Week. The week is intended to call attention to the pro-life side of the ongoing abortion debate. To say that this is a contentious issue, with strong emotions on both sides, is understating things.
The policy for flags to be flown in Memorial Square is pretty straight-forward - proclamations like this one, that are divisive or politically contentious, or that have a religious basis, are supposed to come to council for a decision. This didn't happen for this situation, perhaps because the flag has been flown for several years, without ever receiving approval from council.
Personally, I don't think that most people are aware of what flags may or not fly in front of City Hall on any given day. But this one, this year, caught the eye of a couple of young women, who wondered, rightly, why the city would consider it the right thing to do to endorse one side or the other of such an emotional debate. So in the rain, they stood, holding signs in protest, planning a larger protest later in the week. When we saw the picture in the paper, we realized that one of the people is a friend of our daughter's - not really a surprise, as her friends are young people who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
The arguments coming out of City Hall in defence have been rather pathetic. First, there's the old excuse of we've done this for years. At one point, the blame was placed on newcomers to town - almost how dare people come here and point out the folly of our ways. There was the popular defence of freedom of speech. But the weakest was probably that flying the flag doesn't mean support, we just fly the flag of anyone who asks.
That last argument is ridiculous. Flags are symbols of support. It's easy to come to the conclusion that a flag flown in front of City Hall, along with the Canadian, Saskatchewan and Prince Albert flags, means that the city supports the pro-life side of the debate.
On Thursday, there was a noon-hour rally at Memorial Square that I attended, for a couple of reasons. I support the young ladies who were brave enough to bring this to public attention, and I agree with them. I think that abortion is a matter of personal choice, and I don't think that it's anyone's right to tell anyone else what to do in such a difficult situation. Legislative changes made it a legal option more than thirty years ago, and it's not appropriate for City Hall to enter the debate.
Some of the bravely anonymous comments on various web-sites have likened this flag to the flag that we fly every year during Gay Pride week. After all, there are people who have difficulty with the idea of extending equal rights to people with different sexual orientations. However, it is different, because in that case, we're speaking out against discrimination, and saying that, as a city, we don't believe in that kind of discrimination. As well, the Gay Pride flag isn't trying to get anyone to change their sexual orientation - those supporters are just asking that people be more aware of the discrimination that they face in living their lives, and do what they can to change that.
So what should the city do when a group approaches us to fly their flag? Well, I think that following our policy would be a good start. I also think that we should identify when a flag is likely to give the impression that something has broad endorsement when it doesn't. Some flags will be easy to agree to - Anti-Racism Week, Heart and Stroke Month, the Cancer Society's Daffodil flag during April - those are causes that the city supports.
And also, when someone points out that what we're doing is offensive, stop making excuses. There's nothing wrong with admitting that a mistake has been made, and taking action to fix that mistake. That on its own would have prevented some embarrassing headlines this past week.
"The endorsement process is an evolution. You endorse someone that you believe in, whose ideas and solutions align with yours." - Herman Cain