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Alberta Calgary engineer on why she bought Confederate flags to fight hate

Calgarian Heather Campbell says it was jarring to see a store in her neighbourhood sport a Confederate flag, since the old neighbourhood is eclectic.

Ty Wright/Getty Images

Heather Campbell is an engineer with a master's degree in energy law and policy. She works in clean tech. Her parents have Caribbean roots, she was born in Quebec, spent years in Ontario, and now lives in Calgary's reluctantly gentrified Inglewood neighbourhood. This week she bought four Confederate flags and tucked them in her basement. Ms. Campbell explains to The Globe and Mail why she spent about $83 on the polyester symbols of bigotry she despises.

How did this happen?

I was on my way home from a meeting Monday night, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I looked across the street on 9th Avenue and saw a Confederate flag in a shop window. I went home and I thought, 'Noooo. I didn't actually see that. Did I really see that? No, c'mon. No. Let me just go back and check.' Sure enough, it was exactly what I saw. It was a fairly prominent Confederate flag in a shop window down the road from my house, and that was not cool. Tuesday, the store was closed.

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You had two days to think about it. What went through your head?

I'm thinking I need to have a neighbourly conversation with the shop owner. I had gone through every scenario, like maybe this is a prop for filming because it is Inglewood. But it was not a prop, because it was still there the next day. So I need to ask this person to be kind to me as his neighbour and take this really offensive symbol down. I'm assuming, in my very naive initial thoughts, that it's going to go fine. He's going to say yes, we're going to shake hands, I'm going to walk out, skip home and everything's good.

Wednesday night I went over there and said, "Howdy do." I told him I was his neighbour and in 2017, that particular flag is used as a symbol of bigotry and hate. I even gave him the benefit of the doubt, that maybe he doesn't know it is used that way.

He starts on a whole [American] Civil War rant and refuses to take it down and then just starts insulting me. He inferred I was uneducated and I didn't know my history. There's other pieces I wouldn't even think to repeat because they are just so vile. I thought, wow, this is going to a level of insanity I hadn't quite anticipated.

What was your Plan B?

In our not-so-neighbourly conversation, the shop owner kept saying, "Well, I'm just a businessman." Immediately, a switch flicked in me and I said, "Okay, let's do business." I asked him how much the flag was. He said $19.95. I said, "I'll take that one, please. How many more do you have?" He said a dozen. I said, "I will take all of them."

I regret having a cashless society because I really just wanted to roll out bills. I bought four. I think his dozen comment was just to make me go away. He's continuing to insult me. I said, "Look, I came here politely as your neighbour. I plan to leave here as your neighbour. You need to just ring up the flags, with the GST."

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I wished him a nice afternoon, went to my car and thought about how I now owned four Confederate flags and what in the world am I going to do with those? I didn't really think through the consequences. This is just who I was raised to be. When you see something wrong, you're supposed to fix it, or at least make a darn good effort trying. That was half the challenge Monday night. I was like, man, now I gotta deal with this. I'm a busy woman. I don't have time for this foolishness. People, behave better. Why are you putting a drag on my personal time?

Did it surprise you to see this in Calgary?

No, sadly. We're in a place and time where folks are using offensive symbols to offend. You saw that in the fall when there was a rally [against] the carbon tax and people had a Confederate flag out. You see the odd truck with a front licence plate [with the flag]. But it jarred me to see it in my neighbourhood. Inglewood is the oldest neighbourhood in Calgary, but it is eclectic – it strives to keep that diversity. It has managed its gentrification. These are people who protested a Starbucks and a Tim Hortons in favour of an independently-owned coffee shop.

What's the name of the shop?

I'm not identifying the shop. This shop owner is still my neighbour. I'm not looking to have the masses unleashed on him or to have anything untoward happen to him or to his shop because I've addressed my issue. The flag is not there. I do not want to make an advertisement [telling people] where to buy Confederate flags in Calgary.

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