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Imagine Speaking Truth to Power

I found myself presenting to the Mayor, Councillors, administrators and an overflowing gallery in our local municipal chambers. I was stating my opposition to a motion brought forward by one Councillor to restrict flag raisings in our community to only federal, provincial and municipal flags.

I found myself presenting to the Mayor, Councillors, administrators and an overflowing gallery in our local municipal chambers. I was stating my opposition to a motion brought forward by one Councillor to restrict flag raisings in our community to only federal, provincial and municipal flags.

As an eager exhibitor at our small, local wedding show in early 2023, I was excited to connect with couples looking for just the right officiant to help them bring their perfect ceremony into reality.  I had many great chats with couples that day, but one that stood out for me was a conversation with a bride and groom who shared with me their disappointment and indignation when they had learned that in Ontario, a marriage could only be solemnized by a licensed officiant.

They didn’t understand why other jurisdictions allowed friends/family and so on to acquire quick and easy access to wedding officiant-dom, but Ontario didn’t  offer the same.  It had been their hope that the groom’s sister could perform their ceremony on the family farm.  We had a good chat about other options, but I felt they were still undecided even as they were walking away.

Several months later, in what I would have thought was a completely unrelated endeavour, I found myself presenting to the Mayor, Councillors, administrators and an overflowing gallery in our local municipal chambers. I was stating my opposition to a motion brought forward by one Councillor to restrict flag raisings in our community to only federal, provincial and municipal flags.

Last spring/summer, we were experiencing firsthand in rural southwestern Ontario what I would describe as something similar to the renewed and very unsettling wave of intolerance south of the border. When a request to raise an inappropriate flag over our Civic Centre (essentially our City Hall), specifically the flag of a group that promotes anti-abortion rhetoric, was denied by our municipality, this Councillor felt the best recourse was a motion to ban all flags; throwing the babe out with the bathwater, so to speak.

This motion came to the attention of our local Pride Committee, where I sat as a Director of the Board.  A small contingent came together as a result, not solely to represent the interests of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. We rallied to raise awareness across many local interest groups, clubs, causes, associations across all sectors.  We wanted to be sure that folks understood what this motion meant.  It meant no more poppy flag and no more Terry Fox flag.  For us it wasn’t just about the Pride flag, though sadly, for many who supported this hateful motion, I believe it was.  The motion sought to undermine anyone who cannot look to our federal, provincial and municipal flags and feel safe, feel welcome and feel they belong.  This motion, if passed, would send a message of intolerance and exclusion to our entire community. 

Our Pride group launched a campaign to identify all the groups in our community who would be negatively impacted by this motion, then we set out to connect with each one to ensure they were aware of the motion and how they could ensure their voice was heard.  A few others and I followed the deputation process to have an objection to a motion noted for the record, as dictated by our municipality, and prepared to present at the upcoming council meeting.

My message at the council meeting, in line with others who presented a similar message, was to ensure that everyone was aware that this ill-conceived motion would see our community miss out on flag raisings (and the celebration and awareness that goes with) for initiatives/groups/causes such as Black History Month, the Royal Canadian Legion raising the poppy flag in November, Pride month, National Indigenous History Month in June, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day in September, Terry Fox lives here, Transgender Day of Remembrance and so on. 

Likewise, the motion would demonstrate an overt disrespect and exclusion of blacks, indigenous peoples and members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, among others who not only do not feel represented by our federal, provincial and municipal flags. They do not feel welcome. They do not feel safe. A caring community does not silence the celebration of days of commemoration and awareness, nor does it miss the opportunity to promote inclusion and diversity. 

Although we did have more presenters against the motion than those who stood at the podium to endorse it, the lion’s share of the gallery loudly and without shame, supported the motion.  Fortunately, through a very long evening and after much back and forth between councillors for and against, the motion was voted down and a revised motion to adopt a cleaner more concise flag raising policy was approved. 

Despite a very disheartening journey, this result was our  intended goal and we were pleased with the outcome. As well, the Councillor responsible for bringing the motion forward, due to this and other actions including using social media to intimidate and silence critics, has been the focus of an ongoing investigation by the Integrity Commissioner.

As with all municipal council meetings, this was only one item on a very packed agenda that evening which included a proposal to raise taxes within the agriculture sector of our community.  If you were lucky enough that evening to have a seat in the crowded gallery, or even if you were one of the many left standing, you were probably there on one side or the other of the flag issue, or you were there to advocate on behalf of our local farmers. 

Fortunately for the farmers, the tax ratio motion was also voted down.  What I did not realize was the very progressive young woman who I spoke to at the wedding show months ago, who wanted to get married on her family farm and have her wedding performed by her groom’s sister, was also in chambers that evening. She and her fiancé are local corn seed producers, with an obvious interest in the implications of higher taxes in the agriculture sector. 

I was pleased to receive a message from her shortly after the council meeting, “…We weren’t sure about how to decide on an officiant at the time (of the wedding show), or in the time since, until I saw you give your deputation to council last Monday. I was attending regarding the farm tax ratio issue and confess I hadn’t been very aware of the motion regarding flag raisings but I was so moved by you and your fellow speakers’ words. I have the utmost respect and love for how you guys stood up for those in our community who need it the most. Thank you for what you did, and congratulations on helping to defeat the motion.”

I was so moved to receive this note.  This effort was not about me winning an officiant gig.  This was a real-life lesson for me in humanism.  Lots of folks, on a purely personal level, are unaffected by what flag is flying over our municipal buildings, who even notices or what’s the big deal?  But this young woman was moved to see me in council chambers that evening; having prepared to be there and come forward to speak on behalf of those whose voices often go unheard.  Yet, to me, I couldn’t not be there. 

This motion to eliminate flags and the relevance and impact of each was so wrong to me.  It never dawned on me that there would be impacts outside of our goal to have the motion quashed.  Pleased as I was to be a part of this couple’s special day – because I absolutely love weddings and officiating and all that goes with – it was a reminder to me that in my day in, day out, everyday goings on, small or large, my actions are visible to others.  That presentation was witnessed and appreciated by someone else who was personally unaffected by the flag issue, but aware and appreciative of how it impacted others in our community and therefore, impacts us all. 

As humanists, we strive to do the right things simply because they are the right things to do.  We don’t seek reward, we don’t look to please a god, there isn’t a box to check or a guide we must follow.  And the right things do not always need to be grand and obvious gestures.  Sometimes, in simply not standing by, not able to be silent, our humanism speaks louder than the words we use.