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A year after Pride flags pulled down in Ontario’s Oxford County, 9 are raised in ‘history-making’ events

A year after Pride flags were pulled down in Norwich and other parts of Ontario’s Oxford County, nine rainbow flags were raised in the various communities in a single day, with hopes among police and supporters that conflict won’t be repeated this year.

On Friday, Pride flags were hoisted in succession throughout the day across the regional municipality, including outside municipal offices or in public parks, in the following places:

  • Woodstock.
  • Blandford-Blenheim.
  • East-Zorra Tavistock.
  • Zorra.
  • Ingersoll.
  • South-West Oxford.
  • Tillsonburg.
  • Norwich.
  • Oxford County headquarters.

“Today, we have some history-making in Oxford Country — we’re raising nine Progress-Pride flags,” Tami Murray, president of Oxford Pride, said at the Zorra Township event. “This is the first time ever in history that every township, every town, every city in Oxford County will be raising a flag, so we’re very excited today.” 

Last year, a handful of Oxford communities became flash points of conflict over Pride flags, particularly in Norwich, where the Netherlands Reformed Congregation has a strong following. 

In that community last year, the flags were regularly torn town. At one point, the town voted to bar Pride and other non-government flags on township property, a move that made national headlines. 

Many of the people opposed to the raising of the Pride flag on Friday came carrying Canada flags. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

In January, the town reversed its decision to bar non-government flags from town property, with some councillors acknowledging the policy created tension and division in the community. 

On Friday, not everyone was happy to see the Pride flags return to municipal offices ahead of Pride month celebrations, which typically take place in June. 

About a dozen people showed up to oppose the flag being raised in Zorra, Ingersoll and other locations. Some people arrived carrying Canadian flags attached to hockey sticks and stood off to the side while the ceremonies took place. 

At the Zorra Township and Ingersoll flag-raising events, Mike Verwolf arrived holding a sign that said, “No special interest flags on public flagpoles.” 

“The reason we’re here is really to state that only Canadian flags and other governmental flags should be flown on public flag poles,” he said. 

“We have a [Pride] flag that’s being flown for a month and it isn’t even June yet. There’s a duty of state neutrality and when we’re flying special interest flags, we’re not unifying around that as a country. That has to be an important consideration. We support flying a Canadian flag because it’s a unifying factor in our culture.” 

The Pride flag was raised at nine locations across Oxford County on Friday.
The Pride flag was raised at the various locations in Oxford County. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

OPP Const. Randi Crawford and another officer drove to each flag-raising event on Friday. She said there were no incidents, something she hopes will continue throughout Pride month. 

“We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to celebrate their views peacefully,” said Crawford. “That’s what’s happened today and I’m very grateful for that.”

Murray said people expressing opposition to the Pride flag won’t deter her or Pride supporters. 

Mike Verwolf showed up at some of the ceremonies to celebrate the raising of the Pride flag in Zorra township and in Ingersoll. He said the Pride flag and other ‘special interest’ flags should not be flown from flag poles on public property.
Mike Verwolf, who was at the Zorra Township and Ingersoll flag-raising events, says ‘special interest’ flags shouldn’t be flown from flagpoles on public property. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

She pointed to the support of police and many municipal politicians who took part in Friday’s ceremonies. 

“We may have some challenges moving forward, but our allies are stepping up to the plate,” she said. “They’re really supporting our community and really pushing back and saying, ‘We aren’t going to tolerate this hate.’ I’m really hoping for unity in the community this year.” 

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