Flags lowered after reports of residential school graves should be raised now, O'Toole says

·3 min read
The Canadian flag at half-mast atop the Peace Tower in Ottawa. (Olivier Hyland/CBC News - image credit)
The Canadian flag at half-mast atop the Peace Tower in Ottawa. (Olivier Hyland/CBC News - image credit)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today it's time to raise the Canadian flags that have been at half-mast on federal government buildings nationwide since May, adding the country should be proud to fly its flag even though it has a sad history of colonial abuse.

At the end of May, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau ordered that Canadian flags on federal buildings be flown at half-mast. The order came after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary findings from a radar survey of the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School indicated as many as 215 children could be buried on the site.

The directive was to keep the flags at half-mast on Canada Day and "until further notice," with no definite end date. The federal rules governing how a flag should be flown demand that a half-masted flag be flown at full-mast on Victoria Day and Canada Day regardless of what has transpired — but the flags stayed down this year.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, O'Toole said that, if elected, a government led by him would make Indigenous reconciliation a priority. He has promised more than once to quickly implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action that relate to residential school sites and missing children.

O'Toole also said he's a proud Canadian who treasures our national symbols and it's time to bring the flags up after they've been down for nearly three months.

"I do think we should be proud to put our flag back up," he said. "It's not a time to tear down Canada. It's a time to recommit to building it up to be the country we know it can be. I think to recommit to Canada, you have to be proud of Canada."

WATCH: O'Toole says Canadian flags at government buildings should be raised again

Typically — as in the case of the London, Ont. van attack — flags are lowered to mark a period of national mourning and the prime minister sets a time to return them to full-staff.

No such expiry date was set after the Kamloops report. As of today, the Canadian flag is still at half-mast on the Peace Tower in Ottawa and at dozens of other federal sites across the country.

Under federal rules, flags must be lowered to half-mast to commemorate the deaths of certain notable people — the sovereign, the governor general, the prime minister, MPs and senators, among others. The prime minister also has broad discretionary power to bring the flags down "in exceptional circumstances."

The rules state that, "given that such flags are recognized as paramount symbols of their nations, the act of half-masting is a dramatic visual statement that speaks to the sense of loss that is shared by all their citizens" and any decision to lower flags at government buildings should be "exercised in a consistent and appropriate manner."

O'Toole also reiterated Thursday his opposition to some efforts to "cancel" Canada Day — as some municipalities did this summer to mark the Kamloops discovery.

"You can't cancel the one day a year you commit to your country. We need to use that day to recommit to the path of reconciliation," he said.

When asked about when the flag would be raised, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party said "we need to continue to listen to Indigenous peoples and make decisions in partnership with communities."

"Unlike Mr. O'Toole and the Conservative party, a Liberal government will continue to walk the path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples — not dictating how things ought to be done to them," Alex Wellstead said.

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