City council appears to be leaning toward stopping the practice of flying foreign national flags at city hall after discussion was held on Monday about how to formalize its flag and proclamation policy.

Council had last debated this issue in January 2020. At that time, council directed administration to bring forward a memo that would “transparently lay out what it is the city will and will not consider for flag raising and proclamations and how this will roll out operationally,” according to senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett.     

Coun. Shauna Morgan came out against flying foreign national flags at city hall. 
NNSL file photo

Council reviewed the memo at this week’s governance and priorities committee meeting but a final vote won’t take place until the Jan. 11 regular council meeting. 

The majority of councillors indicated they wanted to stop flying foreign flags altogether, though some want to retain the practice. 

“In my mind, the status quo is not actually working for a couple of different reasons,” said Coun. Shauna Morgan. “What I would suggest changing is that we not fly flags of different countries but instead we could fly flags that represent local festivals or community groups, but not national flags of other countries.”

She also said the city should stop issuing official proclamations to mark special days, weeks or months.

“When we fly flags of other countries, I know it is intended to celebrate the cultural contributions of different groups in this community, which is great, but what people see is a national symbol,” Morgan said. “That can sometimes cause real distress and hurt and confusion amongst community members when we’re flying flags from others countries because there are many countries in the world that have committed human rights abuses or acts of aggression against other countries or certain ethnic groups. Almost every country in the world has caused human rights abuses against its own citizens or others at some point in history, including our own.” 

Coun. Rommel Silverio said he wants to retain the policy of flying foreign national flags, particularly the one of his home country, the Philippines.
NNSL file photo

Morgan received some support from other councillors including Julian Morse, Steve Payne, Robin Williams, Cynthia Mufandaedza and Stacie Smith. 

More than one councillor pointed out that the city wants to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism, but often when raising foreign national flags, council receives emails from citizens whose nationalities have been hurt by the celebrated country.

Yet others disagreed.

Coun. Rommel Silverio, first Yellowknife councillor of Filipino heritage, is a vocal champion of the city recognizing Filipino Heritage Month in June and flying that country’s flag to mark Filipino independence on June 12. 

He said that flying foreign national flags shouldn’t be seen in the context of human rights abuses but as a sign of “friendship” between his home country and adopted country.  

“When you raise a flag for a certain country we don’t really get into the geopolitical aspect,” Silverio said. “It’s friendship. To me, it’s the friendship of this country” and a way of thanking Canada for welcoming Filipino people and their contributions and culture, he added.  “Our country’s government (in the Philippines) isn’t stable but that’s still a home for us and to me, it’s a big thing to celebrate that.”

In June, the city raised the Filipino flag at city hall to mark the 122nd anniversary of that country’s independence from Spain.

Other similar requests were declined this year, however. The Turkish flag, which had been raised over the past three years, was not flown by the city this year. It was seen as too controversial due to tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The Turkish flag, shown here flying on the city hall guest flagpole in 2019, was not flown this year due to sensitivities over ongoing tensions in that region of the world.
photo courtesy of Reyhan Sarikaya

Mayor Rebecca Alty showed support for flying foreign flags, stating that a formalized document to be publicly available on the city’s website will give residents a better understanding of why the municipality is doing it.

“I don’t think we’re weighing in on the geopolitical by celebrating a country’s national holiday,” Alty said. “I think it is different if a group of residents asks us to fly the flag of Timbuktu just because. There’s no reason behind it. So that would be us weighing in and supporting the policies, I think.”

Coun. Niels Konge said he opposed Morgan’s position and supports Alty’s proposal.

Recent controversies with flags 

The issue of controversial flag-flying practices has drawn pointed attention, including during the last council term.  After the passing of former United States President George H.W. Bush in November 2018 – an American war veteran, longtime public servant and frequent visitor to the Northwest Territories – media questioned city hall for lowering its flags half-mast out of respect and in accordance with the federal government.

Advocates for raising an LGBTQ pride version of the Canadian flag in 2014 at city hall was met with some criticism. It with the full rainbow flag. Pictured here, from left, Cindy Perry, Iman Kassam, Nancy MacNeill, James MacKenzie, Kiera Hoekstra and Andrew Millichamp in back.
NNSL file photo

In October, city hall declined to raise the Turkish flag to mark that country’s anniversary of independence, as the municipality has done over the last three years, due to violent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The city did approve a proclamation to recognize Oct. 29 as the anniversary of Turkey’s founding, however.

In 2014, NNSL Media reported that council of the day requested that a rainbow-coloured maple leaf flag be taken down, which had caused controversy because of perceptions that the Canadian flag was being disrespected. A rainbow Pride flag was raised in its place.

 

 

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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  1. If you want some other flag to fly then perhaps your in the wrong country, the exit is the way you came in.