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Ontario township overturns ban on Pride flag, allows it on community flagpole

A township in southwestern Ontario has voted to allow Pride flags on a community flagpole, essentially overturning a controversial decision made last year to ban the flags on municipal property.

Councillors for the Township of Norwich passed a motion last week to allow a list of preapproved flags, including the Pride flag, to be flown on the community pole. 

Other preapproved flags include the United Nations flag, the Truth and Reconciliation Day flag, and the Black History Month flag. Those who want a flag displayed will need to fill out an application, and approved flags will be flown for up to seven days, according to council.

The township captured attention last April when councillors voted 3-2 in favour of a motion to fly only the flags of the federal, provincial and municipal governments on its property. 

That motion specified that Pride flags would be among those prohibited.

The councillor who introduced the motion, then-Coun. John Scholten, said at the time that he wanted to change the flag policy to “maintain the unity” of the community, but some residents expressed dismay at the decision.

Scholten has since retired, and councillors at last week’s meeting suggested he supported the idea of a community flagpole.

Mayor Jim Palmer, who supported the initial motion to limit flags flown on municipal property, also voted last week to allow the preapproved flags.

Before calling the vote, the mayor said he wished council could go back to a time when “we were not involved in anything like this.”

“I know that there will be people unhappy,” he said. “I know there’s people on the right and people on the left, and the extremes are never going to be happy, but maybe they can live with it.”

Oxford County Pride welcomed the reversal and thanked those it said helped ensure Norwich would be “on the right side of human rights.”

“To all the amazing community members in the township of Norwich who endured property destruction, violence, fear, homophobia rhetoric you are leaders, mentors, and heroes, we thank you for standing up for the rights of all,” the organization wrote online. 

Last year’s flag ban had come after the township saw several cases of vandalism the previous year involving Pride flags and banners in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2024.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press