Anti-abortion flag taken down at Ottawa City Hall
A controversial flag celebrating a national anti-abortion rally has been taken down from Ottawa City Hall after outcry from city councillors and members of the public.
But it wasn’t simply outrage that prompted the flag’s removal. In a letter to Ottawa City Council, city clerk and solicitor Rick O’Connor explained that the flag had been requested by an individual, not a group, which goes against protocol.
“This does not meet the criteria and, when this was discovered, the flag was taken down under my authority,” O’Connor wrote.
A flag-raising ceremony was held Thursday morning and attended by several anti-abortion activists. The grey flag included the words “National March for Life Ottawa” to mark the large event held on Parliament Hill later that afternoon.
In addition, the City of Ottawa proclaimed Thursday “March for Life Day.” The official proclamation has been made before, but it’s the first year the divisive flag was flown at city hall.
Seven councillors spoke out against the flag and demanded that it be taken down immediately.
In a statement, the councillors said all Canadians are entitled to express their views, but that the City of Ottawa’s policy states, “a proclamation will not be issued for matters that … represent individual conviction.”
They added that safe access to abortion is a constitutionally-protected right for women across the country.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was inundated with angry messages on Twitter.
“My personal opinion has always been that women have the right to choose. I share your concerns & have asked for a review of our flag policy,” Watson responded in a tweet.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the mayor announced that the flag had been removed. It has since been replaced with a City of Ottawa flag.
I am pleased to report that the anti abortion flag has been taken down. I have asked staff for a complete review of the city's flag policy— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) May 11, 2017
The March for Life is an annual anti-abortion event in downtown Ottawa. This year, a crowd of thousands -- from high school students to nuns -- flooded the lawn outside Parliament for the rally.
News of the flag’s removal angered some members of the march.
“My message is that they are bigots,” anti-abortion protester Francis Barrett told CTV Ottawa. “I know that’s a strong word, but they are infringing on my rights as a taxpayer.”
Another protester added: “They seem to fly every other flag, like Pride and all those, so why not a pro-life flag?”
Councillor: Protesters harassing women
Councillor Catherine McKenney said she’s always been uncomfortable with the “March for Life Day” proclamations and said the city should no longer make them.
“The proclamation and the flag kind of go hand in hand,” McKenney told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
The flag-raising came at a particularly sensitive time for the city. McKenney said anti-abortion protesters have been harassing women at an Ottawa clinic, and that she recently raised concerns in council about what can be done to protect patients.
“We have got to find a way to protect women who are entering a healthcare clinic,” she said.
In the meantime, she says she’s glad the flag has been taken down.
“The flag for me completely stepped over the line and it should never have been flown.”
City explains policy
The City of Ottawa can provide proclamations to groups whose requests don’t violate the Ontario Human Rights Code. In addition, proclamations cannot be discriminatory, espouse hatred, violence or racism, be illegal, be politically or religiously motivated, be intended to make money, or otherwise violate Ottawa bylaws or policies.
“As the request from this anti-choice group met the test of both policies, the proclamation was issued, as it has been for many years,” O’Connor wrote in his letter.
O’Connor added that it was the first year a request was made for a flag raising, and that it was granted on the same basis as the “March for Life Day” proclamation.
Mayor Watson deemed the flag’s approval a “communications problem” between the city clerk’s office and the individual who made the request. He has requested a full review of the policy.
“But you know, mistakes are made and we have to learn from them and move on and come up with a policy that is better and fairer and that doesn’t get us into these divisive debates,” Watson said.
With files from CTV Ottawa