City Hall amends flag-flying policy after ‘March for Life’ controversy

The City of Ottawa has announced it is changing its policies surrounding the raising of special flags at City Hall.

This comes after a controversy in May, when a flag for the annual March for Life event was briefly raised. The move prompted criticism from the community and some city councillors. After the flag was removed that same day, Mayor Jim Watson ordered a review of the City’s policies.

In a memo to City Council, City Solicitor Rick O’Connor says he has implemented a revised flag protocol procedure to ensure that flags “reflect a connection to the City and to matters of municipal interest.”

There are four flags that regularly fly at City Hall: the flags of Canada, Ontario, and the City of Ottawa, and the Franco-Ontarian flag.

Most of the time, the other flagpoles at City Hall fly one of these flags, if no other flag has been requested.

Going forward, O’Connor says the revised protocol will require any group that wants its flag flown to “have a mandate, program or activity that is directly connected to the municipality - by way of a relevant funding or partnership agreement - or that aligns with days of awareness, celebration, importance, commemoration or promotion, that are recognized by the Ontario and/or Federal Government, or a Ministry or Department thereof.”

Groups will also have to make the request on their organization’s letterhead.

O’Connor adds the current practice of rejecting flag requests that “espouse hatred, racism, or violence” will continue. Flags that are politically or religiously motivated or that represent an individual conviction will also be rejected.

O’Connor said in a previous memo that “politically or religiously motivated” means affiliated for or against specific political parties or candidates or religions.

The new policies come into effect Monday, October 9, 2017.