Rainbow flag staying up at city hall, despite Rob Ford's protest
Published Friday, February 7, 2014 1:01PM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 7, 2014 6:25PM EST
A rainbow flag raised in support of Russia’s LGBT community is staying put at Toronto city hall for the duration of the Sochi Games, despite Mayor Rob Ford’s public call to have it removed.
The flag, a longstanding symbol adopted by the LGBT community, was raised at city hall during a ceremony on Friday, the same day as the Opening Ceremony in Russia. The event was attended by a number of city officials, including Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam.
But Ford protested, saying the Winter Olympics is not about sexual preference. He said he would be contacting city staff to have the rainbow flag removed.
"This is about the Olympics. This is about being patriotic to your country. This is not about someone's sexual preference," he said.
Ford later tweeted: "I am proud of all Canadian Olympians #Toronto #CanadianFlag #Olympics2014.
The mayor remained steadfast as he left city hall Friday evening, telling reporters that he plans to put in a formal request to have the rainbow flag taken down.
Several of Ford’s colleagues, including Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, came out in support of flying the rainbow flag at city hall.
“I think it shows that the city of Toronto respects and includes all the communities and residents of the city in its embrace and also it’s a statement that we’re not afraid to stand up for the rights and privileges being abused in other parts of the world,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing un-Canadian about that. In fact, that’s a very Canadian thing to do.”
The city’s communications department later confirmed to CP24 that Ford does not have the authority to order the flag removed. Earlier, a city spokesperson also confirmed that they had not received any requests to remove it.
The 519 Community Centre in downtown Toronto made the request to fly the rainbow flag for two weeks, and Protocol Services approved it in accordance with council-approved policy.
Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa are among the Canadian cities that are flying rainbow flags in symbolic protest of Russia’s anti-gay laws, and in solidarity with the global LGBT community.
But Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong agreed with the mayor, saying the flag should be about sport and Canadians.
"If the city of Toronto was to fly a flag, I believe it should be the Canadian flag or I think it should be the Olympic flag," Minnan-Wong said.
But Ford’s comments drew criticism from other councillors. Coun. Anthony Perruzza told reporters he went to speak with the mayor because he felt there is an “important principle at stake.”
“We are a symbol of inclusivity around the world, we have a leadership role in this area and we should continue to lead,” Perruzza said.
Perruzza said that the mayor was warm to his suggestion that the Canadian flag and the rainbow flag be flown in tandem at city hall.
In a joint written statement released Friday afternoon, Kelly and Wong-Tam said that as an “open and diverse city,” Toronto must “display our pride” to the international community.
“We must remind those who look to Toronto for leadership that LGBTQ communities should be free of discrimination and be able to enjoy the same freedoms and human rights as others,” the statement read.
Ford's comments come two days after he said he does not plan on attending this summer’s Pride parade.
The comments, made during a student-run mayoral debate in Scarborough, prompted his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, to defend the mayor and insist he is not homophobic.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, The 519 said the mayor’s remarks related to Toronto’s LGBT community come at a time when Toronto is preparing to host World Pride, hold a municipal election, and when the Olympics are being hosted in a country that has banned “homosexual propaganda.”
“The 519 strongly believes that homophobia and transphobia whether direct or inferred, have no place in the political discourse and should never be used as a tactic to secure electoral votes,” the statement said.
Several cities are flying rainbow flags -- with support from their respective mayors -- as the Olympics get underway.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has faced some criticism on social media over the decision to fly the rainbow flag at city hall for the duration of the Olympics:
@JimWatsonOttawa This is a stupid waste of time. You've lost my vote.— Awe Some (@Awesomely11) February 6, 2014
@Awesomely11 if you have that point of view, I really don't want your vote.— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) February 6, 2014