NORTH PERTH – Following a confusing discussion on July 5, which could leave residents wondering if an anti-racist flag could be against North Perth strategic policies or if North Perth Pride could be left to celebrate using old banners that are scattered around town, council gave staff the go-ahead to continue investigation into possible support of North Perth Pride in 2022.
On June 14, council received a letter from Gebadia Haverkamp sharing plans for an upcoming fundraising event and launch of the North Perth Pride community group.
As stated in the letter, Haverkamp was seeking support in principle from North Perth council for the fundraising event and the launch of the community group.
The letter also formally requested North Perth officially recognize Pride Month next June. Official recognition is requested through the flying of the Pride flag at municipal buildings and consideration for a rainbow-painted crosswalk in Listowel.
Council passed a resolution directing staff to prepare a report looking at ways council can be supportive of the requests. Based on initial research of initiatives in neighbouring and other Ontario municipalities, staff have made four suggestions to support North Perth Pride.
The first is to fly the Pride flag.
“Based on research staff have taken note that several municipalities in Huron-Perth have flown the Pride flag including West Perth, the City of Stratford, the Town of St. Marys and the Town of Goderich,” said CAO Kriss Snell. “We would consider bringing forward an amended flag policy at a future council meeting that would permit flying of the Pride flag. We would also look at our proclamation policy which coincides with the flag policy.”
The second suggestion is the proclamation but the current flag and banner policy stated that “proclamations of any type are not made by the Council of the Town of North Perth,” so that portion of the policy would also have to be revised.
The third suggestion was to investigate the installation of a rainbow crosswalk.
“Rainbow crosswalks are being installed within many communities to promote inclusion and support towards the LGBTQ+ community,” the report from staff reads. “Popularity has grown over time and support has been shown with many municipalities across Canada and worldwide now participating in the installation of rainbow crosswalks.”
Initial staff research has shown the installation of a rainbow crosswalk ranging from $7,000 in Owen Sound to $15,000 in Kitchener-Waterloo.
The fourth suggestion is to collaborate and promote events for the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“One of those suggestions is that we work with the North Perth Community of Character committee to look at how their activities could align with the activities that are being suggested by council to support this cause,” said Snell.
The recommendation in the report was that council supports the request by Haverkamp for the fundraising event, which will be at no cost to North Perth, in principle and that staff further investigate revisions to the flying of banners, flags and proclamations policy, investigate the possible installation of rainbow crosswalks which, if approved, could be included in the 2022 budget, and investigate collaborations between North Perth Pride and other groups in the municipality.
“I agree with the declaration and I support it in principle,” said Coun. Neil Anstett.
He noted the flag policy was dated 2002 and it stated flags to be limited to nationally-recognized charities and local organizations. He asked if North Perth Pride counts as a local organization.
“The way we’ve interpreted that definition now is that they usually have to be an incorporated organization,” said Snell. “I suspect that the Pride group is not looking into being incorporated so I would doubt that they would fit into that.”
Coun. Julie Behrns agreed that it might be time to take a second look at banner, flag and proclamation policies.
“I don’t like amending a policy specifically for one specific group but if we feel that the flag policy needs to be amended I think that’s what we should… take a look at it,” she said. “I still don’t believe that the municipality should be making proclamations of any sort.”
Behrns voiced concern about the cost estimates of rainbow crosswalks.
“I know in Minto what they did was they tied banners around the light posts instead in the Pride colours, which in my mind was far more attractive,” she said. “I’m certainly willing to investigate the possibility of that.”
She said her real concern is that staff are busy and hard working for the municipal endeavours. “I’m not certain that I want to tell staff that they must investigate and collaborate any specific initiatives, not just the one mentioned here,” said Behrns. “Is it not on the group themselves to investigate their collaboration initiatives with the other service organizations within our municipality... as much as, yes it’s lovely to try to do everything, I’m worried we’re going to be spreading some of our staff too thin to manage all of it.”
Concerning the collaboration aspect, Snell said that’s why they are suggesting working with an already established group that has a mandate to be inclusionary – the Community of Character committee.
“We haven’t had those discussions yet with the Community of Character,” he said. “Certainly our existing organizations such as… the North Perth Library and… program services do recognize and work with existing groups that meet our strategic plan.”
Snell said that even decorating as Minto did takes staff resources as well.
“Tying colourful ribbons around a lamppost can be done by the organization itself and not necessarily by a staff person,” said Behrns.
Deputy Mayor Doug Kellum said he is concerned and has had several comments, emails and phone calls about the lowering of the flag.
“I think this could be opening up something to a lot of different groups,” he said. “One call to me, it was late on Saturday, they said it’s no different than your bylaw with regards to setting a precedent for the halls around the municipality, you exclude one person to rent to … are you excluding them here? You know if I want to lower an anti-racist flag are you going to allow that, where do you draw the line? So I think moving forward we have to be very careful with this decision. I’m open to hearing everyone but so far the lowering of the flag has been the biggest issue out of all the concerns that I have been receiving.”
“I agree with Coun. Kellum,” said Snell. “We want to be careful that we don’t create a flag policy that would imply that we would fly flags that would go against our own strategic policies.”
“Just as an observation, it’s not about lowering a flag, it’s about flying a flag,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg.
Coun. Lee Anne Andriessen also clarified it’s not about lowering the flag but raising the flag.
She then provided examples of what other government entities are doing. Such as installing an additional flagpole at the municipal office and continue to fly the Canadian flag.
In her previous work as a principal at a brand-new school, it had several flag poles.
“We always flew the Canadian flag and for the entire month of June the school board also required us to fly the Pride flag,” said Andriessen. “I think that this report is helpful but I think it’s a good consideration moving forward for us to be inclusive and look at these ways to make that happen with additional flagpoles.”
Kellum apologized for his early comments about lowering the flag.
“There have just been so many things the last few weeks about lowering flags and raising flags,” he said. “I meant about establishing a new flag – raising the flag.”
Kasenberg pointed out that the resolution as it was presented does recommend revisions to the policy for the flying of banners and flags and proclamations.
“I think if I heard things right there may be concern amongst council… on the issue of the installation of a rainbow crosswalk,” he said. “Remember at this point it’s just an investigation to finalize the approach and bring that to council for… inclusion in the budget in 2022.”
Kasenberg pointed out the recommendation about investigating the collaboration of Pride initiatives with other North Perth groups.
“The way I read that it’s fairly abstract,” he said. “It allows for staff to come back and let us know what the resource implications are and if those are unacceptable then council can ask for revisions or decline to invest further.”
Coun. Matt Richardson said he agreed with Behrns and that the flag bylaw is outdated.
“I think there’s a certain understanding that there can still be a celebration of the month and the inclusivity and stuff like that might not necessarily incur the cost of (a) flagpole down at the town office,” he said. “We do have a lot of banners… that are scattered throughout the town. There is certainly a possibility like we talked about with the banners that could certainly make it quite colourful in addition to wrapping the coloured ribbons around the telephone poles. We have a number of light standard banners that are still in the downtown core that could certainly be reflective of those initiatives if we decide to do so.”
Coun. Terry Seiler asked if they are going to use taxpayers funding to pay, is it council’s decision or is it the taxpayers’ decision.
“Should they have a say in this?” he asked. “That could be a good controversy towards us so I think we need to look at that… is the group going to raise the funds for this… I think that we should look at who is going to make the decision.”
Council voted in favour of the recommendations in the report.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner