I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the first man doing hard time for disallowing the flying of the Canadian flag at his retirement community tells the other prisoners what he's in for.
“You are one tough dude,” one of them might say, casually rolling down his sleeve to cover the Canadian flag tattoo on his tree-trunk bicep and slowly backing away.
“Whoa, I guess that puts my seven pot plants in perspective” another might say, “Oh, wait a second, everything puts my seven pot plants in perspective. How long did they give you … what did you say your name was again?”
“Mr. Reginald Guardhouse, former chairman of the Oak Bay Court Residents Association. They gave me two years, boy. But sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do and really it was no harder than telling Mrs. Fellner that she had to kill her cat.” All of the other prisoners glance at each other nervously. Someone by the door lowers the red and white dishtowel with which he had been wiping a plate.
This week, a private member's bill aiming to make it illegal to forbid anyone to fly a Canadian flag was introduced by Conservative backbencher John Carmichael.
How often does this flag-banning happen? It's epidemic, according to Mr. Carmichael, and that's why, through attempting to create a new crime with a maximum two-year sentence attached, he has chosen to make it a priority to defend the Canadian-flag-flying-rights of people who failed to read the fine print in their condominium board rules.
Now, one of the many things I love about Canada is that we are not weird about our flag. We throw the flag on the picnic table when we need a spare tablecloth. We hang the flag up as a curtain sometimes. Most of us don't, I think, consider these acts unpatriotic. The fact that so many of us have a Canadian flag on hand with which to make a tent in the backyard when the children get bored is a testament to our deep, calm affection for our country – and the tent/tablecloth/curtain-using part is a testament to our celebrated practicality. To most of us, I think, a flag is a flag. It's not a fetish object.
Americans have something called a United States Flag Code, a never-enforced, penalty-less 1942 law that details how their flag should be handled. If, as the fashion currently is, Americans want to rail against overregulation, nothing on the books at the Environmental Protection Agency has anything on this document. The code explains every aspect of the American flag's correct hanging and care. When carried in procession, it must be to the right of the marchers – that kind of thing.
I once spoke to an American woman who described the anxiety that gripped her whenever she was called upon during her Girl Scouts days to lower the flag. She had been warned so often about respecting the flag and what that entailed that she cried, she said, for fear the flag would touch the ground as she folded it – which would have been terrible because the flag isn't supposed to touch the ground or get wet. You should never get it wet. It's like a gremlin.
The U.S. also has the more recent Freedom To Display the American Flag Act of 2005, an act that does what Mr. Carmichael's National Flag of Canada Act aims to do: exempt a purely symbolic activity (flag flying) from a set of rules governing what is permissible. Both laws do this by federally legislating what is essentially a landlord/tenant issue (in Canada, these are generally a provincial matter) through a criminal law. Remember, the rationale for doing this, as the bill somewhat paradoxically states, is that the Canadian flag is “a symbol of freedom.” So private property and private contracts be damned.
Some condominium buildings and housing estates have rules disallowing pets, clotheslines, decadently colourful front doors and even children. I'm sure many of them don't allow people to fly flags. Obviously people would opt to fly a variety of flags, because people are like that, and once-uniform developments would start to look like the streets of Toronto during the World Cup, an effect that never fails to make me giddy with patriotic pride. In fact, this is why I don't imagine I would ever live in a no-flag zone. However, I applaud any board that bans all flags equally – because that is, in fact, the most Canadian thing to do – and I oppose any bill that, by putting a symbol ahead of a principle, imposes upon their right to do so.