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Pride flags and other banners banned from municipal properties and lamp posts in Norwich Township

Rally by LGBTQ2S+ community and allies outside Norwich municipal building on April 25, 2023. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London) Rally by LGBTQ2S+ community and allies outside Norwich municipal building on April 25, 2023. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)

* Some images in this article may be disturibing to some readers

A new bylaw approved in Norwich Township will restrict the types of flags permitted to fly on municipal properties and downtown lamp posts.

The original version of the motion by Coun.John Scholton of Otterville, specifically targeted Pride and Progress banners.

That a by-law be established to

  • Provide that only the three official government flags (Federal, Provincial, and Municipal) be flown on any Township property,
  • Provide that only banners related to promotion of downtown businesses or for downtown beautification be installed on Township owned streetlight poles, which excludes Progress or Pride banners
  • Provide that the Township participate in the Safe and Well Oxford Steering Committee

In a procedural move that drew jeers from many of the 75 residents that filled council chambers, Scholton crossed the floor mid-meeting to quietly negotiate an amendment to his motion with Coun. Adrian Couwenberg.

Couwenberg was worried the motion could trigger a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Eventually, the amendment dropped any reference to Progress and Pride banners in favour of a blanket ban on any flags that don’t meet the motion’s limited criteria.

Coun. Couwenberg and Coun. Scholton discuss an amendment to the motion mid-meeting on April 25, 2023. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)

The bylaw passed 3-2 (Mayor Palmer, Councillor Couwenberg, and Councillor Scholton in favour, Councillor Gear and Councillor Stubbs opposed).

Councillor Scholton declined to be interviewed by CTV News following the meeting.

“Absolutely deplorable and disappointing!” said Tami Murray, president of Oxford County Pride after the decision. “I cannot believe the regression in this community. Unfortunately, it just means my job is not done.”

Murray said council can expect a complaint to the Human Rights Commission and to the Integrity Commissioner.

“It kind of looked like they didn’t know what they were doing,” Murray added. “When you put things in writing, as you have done today, we unfortunately have to look forward to Human Rights (complaints).”

“If we are challenged we will have to defend ourselves,” responded Mayor Jim Palmer.

Palmer suggested that a Human Rights ruling against the City of London in 1997 may not be relevant to Norwich’s decision.

In 1995, London Mayor Dianne Haskett had refused to fly the Pride flag and proclaim Pride weekend.Messages written on pick-up trucks targeting LGBTQ2S+ community (Daryl Newcombe/CTV Mews London)

Mayor Palmer stating, “City of London is quite a bit larger than the Township of Norwich. It was 20 some-odd years ago, Mayor Haskett was virtually against this. No one here has been essentially against it. As a mayor it’s my job to represent my constituents, it’s not totally my opinion.”

In June 2022, Pride month was marred by people ripping down and burning rainbow flags that hung from lamp posts in the downtown business district.

Since then, the divide has only deepened between residents who support LGBTQ2S+ flags and an equally large community of fundamentalist Christians.

Competing rallies were held outside the municipal building before the council meeting.

Two pick-up trucks parked near the front of the parking lot were covered in handwritten messages targeting those participating in the LGBTQ2S+ rally.

“No gay flags,” “Go drink Bud Light,” and a crudely drawn image of two penises next to each other crossed out with a marker.

The young man driving one of the trucks refused to answer questions from CTV News.

There was similar silence when two groups of adults were approached for an interview.A crude drawing of two penises crossed out on a pick-up truck parked outside the Norwich municipal building on April 26, 2023. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)

Meanwhile, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and their allies stood near the front door waving rainbow flags and holding signs that read “Love thy Neighbour” and “Everyone has a Right to Fly our Flags”.

“It’s important to have Norwich be a safe place, uphold diversity, and not give in to the people who are being hateful,” explained Emilyn Harvey, who helped organize a contingent of high school students.

Kelly Walker travelled from Ingersoll to attend the rally and said, “Looking around and seeing what’s happening, it’s heartbreaking.”

Patricia Marshal of the Ingersoll and Area Indigenous Solidarity and Awareness Network pointed out that Pride and Progress flags were the target of the original council motion, but other flags will also be prohibited.

“This would include the Every Child Matters flag which is an act of solidarity with the Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation movement,” Marshal explained. “This cannot be tolerated or ignored.”

After the meeting, Norwich resident Tyler Zacher-King expressed his deep disappointment.

“It’s very disheartening to see that this is what the council has decided to do, and not support the inclusivity for the LGBTQ2 community. It’s a real shame.” Top Stories


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