By Trevor Busch
Following recent controversy involving protocol with town flagpoles, the Town of Taber has drafted a policy to govern flag requests from community organizations.
Earlier this year, the town drew a degree of criticism from LGBTQ+ rights individuals when it denied a request from the Taber Equality Alliance to fly a Pride flag on one of the town’s main flagpoles located in front of the Administration Building in June.
A follow up motion to relocate the Pride flag to the town’s pole in Confederation Park was only passed by a narrow 4-3 margin.
As per council’s request at their June 12 regular meeting, administration researched and drafted Flag Protocol Policy C-9.
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.
To address the desire for community groups and organizations to celebrate their events in the community with their own flags, the current flagpole located in Confederation Park — not the main entrance to the Administration Building — would be designated as the “Community Flagpole” to allow any eligible community group the opportunity to apply for the raising of their flag to coincide with special events or occasions.
Under the policy, requests for guest flags to be flown on the Community Flagpole will be subject to the approval of council. At all times, the flags flown on the four flagpoles in front of the Administration Building will consist of the Canadian flag, provincial flag, Municipal District of Taber flag, and the Town of Taber flag.
No guest flags will be flown at that location, and the noted flags will be the sole flags flown at all times.
Discussed at council’s June 26 regular meeting, this rigidly-defined policy aspect drew criticism from Coun. Joe Strojwas.
“If you have a visiting dignitary from another country, in the protocol here it says it has to go on the Community Flagpole in the back. If you have a visiting dignitary, would it not be more proper protocol to have it flown in front of the building with the other flags? I didn’t see anything in here noting an exception to it. The way you have it listed it just says only those four flags would be flown there and nothing else. You have made notice in the back here later on that it would be flown on the Community Flagpole. I just don’t think that’s proper protocol.”
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux pointed out there has been past precedent to support Strojwas’ argument.
“We did have the Japanese flag flown out front when the consul-general was here. I think for visiting dignitaries I have to agree with Councillor Strojwas. It deserves the respect of the front pole.”
Coun. Jack Brewin suggested it might be more proper for the town to erect a fifth flagpole in front of the Administration Building, rather than improperly flying a flag under another flag, among other concerns.
“This is just my opinion, but we are citizens of Canada, we are citizens of the Town of Taber, and I would not want to take the Town of Taber or any other flag down for another dignitary,” said Coun. Randy Sparks.
“Either we put another flagpole up, or we erect a flagpole for that day, or that three days, and have their flag flown. I don’t think it’s right that any other flag out there gets taken down for someone who’s visiting our town.”
Brewin agreed with Sparks, suggesting that had been his meaning in advocating for a fifth pole.
“That was my intention. I didn’t mean below the town flag, nothing should fly below.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop was also on board with a solution that appeared to satisfy all parties.
“I agree with that. That sounds reasonable to me. Can we have a temporary flagpole somewhere out front? I think that makes more sense.”
CAO Cory Armfelt confirmed the idea of a erecting a temporary fifth flagpole on certain occasions should not be difficult to implement.
“Certainly a temporary flagpole would be easy enough to construct.”
The town consulted flag protocols and policies from the City of Markham, City of St. Albert, City of Vancouver, City of Ottawa, City of Lethbridge, City of Calgary, County of Grande Prairie, City of Windsor, Town of Whitby, Town of Newmarket, City of Toronto, City of Regina, City of Guelph, City of Surrey, Town of LaSalle, Town of Wolfville, and the national and provincial flag etiquettes in helping draft the policy.
Aside from heads of state and other official personages, flags will be flown at half mast to acknowledge the death of local MPs or MLAs, mayors or former mayors, current councillors or former councillors who have served more than 10 years, Taber Police Service or Taber Fire Department members killed in the line of duty, or residents of the community who are active members of the armed forces killed while deployed on operations.
Flags will be flown at half mast annually on April 28 (Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace), June 23 (National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism), the last Sunday in September (Police and Peace Officers’ National Memorial Day), Nov. 11 (Remembrance Day) and Dec. 6 (National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women).
Notification of the public regarding the half-masting will be posted to the Town of Taber website or other social media.
According to the procedure, organizations and groups must submit their request six weeks in advance of the requested date, and requests “shall be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and previous approval of a flag shall not necessarily constitute immediate approval of the same flag or flagpole location.”
A long list of banned flags was detailed, including any flags that espouse hatred, violence, racism or sexism; obscene, violent, derogatory or explicit imagery; political parties or organizations; religious organizations or in celebration of religious events; any flags that represent “individual conviction”; commercial organizations or events; flags of private persons; flags or organizations with “intent contrary to town bylaws or policies” or “contrary to provincial legislation, federal law or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”; requests from an individual and not a community organization; and unless previously flown on a federal building (which constitutes official recognition by the Government of Canada) flags that are considered “controversial, contentious, or divisive within the community”.
Following discussion at their June 26 meeting, council voted unanimously (5-0) to refer Flag Protocol Policy C-9 back to administration for amendments as suggested by council.
Coun. Rick Popadynetz was absent.