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Northern Alberta town council must decide on how to handle restrictive flag and crosswalk petition

Petition is asking for the town to only allow white ladder crosswalks and town and provincial flags on town properties.
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The painting of a crosswalk with the colours of the Pride flag back in June has spurred a petition for a bylaw preventing the flying of any flags except those of the Town of Westlock, Alberta and Canada on public property. The bylaw would also restrict any crosswalk from being painted with any colours other than the traditional white laddered stripes.

WESTLOCK — Now that a petition has been submitted to the municipality, Town of Westlock councillors will either have to pass a proposed “crosswalk and flagpole” bylaw or hold a plebiscite to allow residents to decide on its fate. 

In the Nov. 7 edition, the Town & Country This Week reported that the municipality had verified the authenticity of a neutrality petition calling for a crosswalks and flags bylaw. 

Under this bylaw, the town will only be able to fly its own flag or that of the province of Alberta/Canada on public property or at town facilities. As well, crosswalks will only be painted with the traditional white laddered design. 

The town announced via a press release that a draft bylaw would be presented to town councillors at their Nov. 27 meeting. 

Since then, questions have been raised online about council’s options regarding the bylaw. In response, the Town & Country This Week reached out to communications and marketing co-ordinator Debbie Mottus. 

She confirmed that town council must pass first reading on the bylaw, and from there, must either decide to hold a plebiscite or pass second and third reading at a subsequent meeting. 

If council chooses to go with a plebiscite, administration will bring all the pertinent details of when and where a vote will be held to a subsequent meeting, Mottus said. 

In the release sent out by the town, Mayor Ralph Leriger said this bylaw carries a lot of considerations for council, as it would prevent the town from flying Canadian military or school flags, as well as flags displaying the poppy or flags marking the Christmas season. 

Flags belonging to any Treaty 6 First Nations, Métis or other Indigenous groups could not be flown, and the town would also be unable to paint crosswalks any other colour to beautify the community. 

“I’m not convinced this petition accurately represents the majority of our community’s desires, so there’s a lot to work through as we move forward,” Leriger said. 

Crosswalk opposition 

The catalyst for this bylaw and this petition was the town’s decision to paint a crosswalk with the colours of the Progress Pride Flag back in June, based on a request from the gay-straight alliance at R.F. Staples School. 

This prompted petition author Stephanie Bakker and others to speak out against the crosswalk-painting on the grounds that the town should remain neutral on political issues. 

A former town councillor and local business-owner, Robin Brett, was among those who spoke out against the crosswalk painting. Over the past two weeks, Brett sent in two letters to the Town & Country This Week lauding the completion of the petition and criticizing the town’s response. 

In his first letter, Brett thanked every “stalwart citizen whose signature helped to accomplish a major milestone,” adding that this petition succeeded despite claims that those behind the petition would have their names added to a public list and other actions by “online bad actors browbeating opinions differing from their own.” 

Brett questioned whether town council would remain impartial as this process runs its course and allow citizens to make up their own minds. 

In his second letter, Brett said that the Town of Westlock’s news release confirming the petition had been verified showed that council does not want to craft this bylaw and will try to “sabotage its success come the yet-to-be-announced townwide vote.” 

Brett countered Leriger’s argument that this bylaw would prevent the town from flying military flags or poppy flags or Treaty 6 flags by pointing out that he didn’t recall the town ever doing so. 

“Warning of the absence of something that was always absent doesn’t make for a good argument,” said Brett. 

"It’s a clear attempt to find a weak point, any weak point, in the armour of the growing grassroots movement that brought this petition to bear." 

Brett argued that public places must remain neutral or else the people in power will have to decide what causes are worth promoting, as the only other option is to permit everything.

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Kevin Berger

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