The goal of hammering out an official policy on flag raising was to bring some consistency to Chilliwack.
A draft flag policy was presented to council at city hall Tuesday with a recommendation to limit flags flown to the Canadian, provincial or city flag — with the goal of avoiding any perception of unintended support.
“Flags are symbols that identify people as belonging to a group and sometimes have the ability to divide communities,” stated the staff report on the flag policy.
“Although it is not the City’s intention, displaying a flag in front of City Hall may unintentionally indicate City support for a group or activity connected to a flag. Displaying only the Canadian, Provincial and City flags circumvent that concern.”
But Coun. Sam Waddington raised the suggestion of something that could be added to the flag policy, noting that other cities sometimes offer a “community” flag pole, and to make it available for rotating groups to apply to use.
He suggested the matter be referred back to staff, to look at the idea of adding a “community flagpole,” to display flags of community groups and non-profits.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz asked Coun. Waddington to flesh out his idea, and followed up with several questions.
Did he envision such a community flagpole being on private or city-owned property? The councillor replied that in some communities the community flagpoles were sited on “community” property, in a central location, like an arena.
Mayor Gaetz asked him if the city would also “orchestrate” the flag raising operations, since the flag policy was specifically drafted, in part to avoid any situations where city staff had to decide on whether to fly a certain flag or not, and who would end up administering the policy, a community member?
Coun. Waddington replied that he thought the incoming “community coordinator” being hired by the city to serve the public, and to liaise with various departments within the city’s bureaucracy.
The mayor also asked if religious flags would be flown, and Coun. Waddington said in his research, he hadn’t seen any examples of religious flags, or political flags, or anything racist being included.
“We have never said no,” said Mayor Gaetz, with regard to past practice when flag raising requests came in.
“We’ve flown the Métis flag, Canuck Place, Terry Fox, there have been several,” Gaetz said.
The purpose of drafting a flag policy is to give the city “clearer direction about where we want to go” with this matter, and the part she had difficulty with was reverting back to a situation where staff had to make decisions on flags.
The city “did away” with official proclamations read out in council chambers because they were flooded with them, and now decline those requests.
“We’d get one a week,” she continued. “At that point it started to feel unwieldy, and some were on the edge of what we would entertain on a political level.”
What they were after was a policy that contributes to “a feeling of community and connectivity, and celebration,” and the point was made in the staff report “that the flag of Canada was supposed to do that.”
The staff report stated that since Canada’s maple leaf is “a symbol of our nation’s unity” and represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.
“Flying the Canadian, provincial and city flags on official Chilliwack flagpoles fully represents diversity and inclusiveness in our community.”
City officials have raised flags upon request for a day maximum, but they can’t be commercial, religious, or political in nature. Lowering the flag to half-mast in recent years has been at the Mayor’s discretion. Typical requests for flag raising came from a range of community groups, non-profits and cultural groups.
Coun. Waddington said he would welcome more insight, and further discussion, on the possibility of a community flagpole.
“To my way of thinking it could ultimately be something that falls between this flag policy, and the proclamations we used to make,” he said.
The flag policy will be going back to staff for a little retooling before coming back to council for approval of a final draft.