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Collingwood councillor pushes for ban of Confederate flag, hate symbols

Collingwood council turns discussions to diversity with Confederate flag and rainbow crosswalk
Collingwood Town Hall. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

Over the next few weeks, town council will deal with not only diversity, but a potential ban on hate symbols in both public and private spaces.

Councillor Yvonne Hamlin introduced the idea of a potential ban during a strategic initiatives committee meeting last week.

“I’m bringing forward a motion to ask staff to investigate further how we can prohibit visible symbols of hate and racism in both private and public spaces and what steps we can take to advance community inclusivity and diversity,” said Hamlin.

She referred to an online petition calling on the Town of Collingwood to pass a bylaw prohibiting “the visible display of symbols like the Confederate flag.”

One resident on Ninth Street was flying a Confederate flag outside his home for several years. He has recently taken it down.

Const. Martin Hachey, from Collingwood and The Blue Mountains OPP, said the OPP was contacted about the Confederate flag flying on ninth street.

“It was investigated by our local Crime Unit with the assistance of the Barrie Crown Attorney’s office and the OPP Hate Crimes unit and it was found that the flying of the Confederate flag in and of itself does not meet the criteria for a hate crime or a criminal offence,” said Hachey.

According to the Canadian Criminal Code a hate crime is the public incitement of hatred against any identifiable group or the wilful promotion of hatred (outside of private conversation).

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a US-based anti-hate organization, states the use of the Confederate flag is “controversial” as it is used by white supremacists today. The ADL suggests the flag is also used by non-extremists.

“One should not automatically assume that display of the flag is racist or white supremacist in nature,” states the ADL. “The symbol should only be judged in context.”

But local people of colour have condemned the display as hateful.

Marcia Alderson spoke publicly at yesterday’s Black Lives Matter protest, saying the Confederate flag had no place in Collingwood.

The online petition against displaying the Confederate flag in Collingwood has 26,638 signatures.

“I completely agree we need to take a strong stance on these kinds of things,” said Hamlin.

Though display of the Confederate flag may be legal under Canadian law, Hamlin wants staff to look at options available to the town and within council’s jurisdiction.

The motion she put forward, which will be discussed at a future council meeting, asks staff for options available to prohibit the display of symbols of hate and racial intolerance in both public and private spaces.

She also wants staff to look at options for how the town can “advance and focus on community inclusivity and diversity.”

Last night, Mayor Brian Saunderson put forward his own motion for a rainbow crosswalk or other such feature to “recognize diversity in our community.”

There was some discussion during the planning of Collingwood’s first Pride event to have a rainbow crosswalk installed somewhere in town in time for the celebration. However, the event has been postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic.

Director of Public Works, Engineering and Environmental Services, Peggy Slama, said staff could provide council with a list of possible locations and the costs associated with a rainbow crosswalk.

Acting CAO Sonya Skinner said staff was supportive of a feature celebrating diversity and inclusion.

“We would be pleased to bring back a crosswalk [plan] and other options if that was something council were interested in doing,” said Skinner. “It’s supported by the town’s strategic plan.”

Mayor Saunderson’s motion will come up at a future council meeting for a vote.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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