Kelowna will stop flying courtesy flags at City Hall effective immediately, after a public outcry over the possibility that the flag of a group that opposes abortion and euthanasia would claim the spot for a week this fall.
At a meeting on Monday, city councillors voted unanimously to retire the courtesy flag pole introduced in 2011 to recognize visiting dignitaries, promote civic occasions and allow not-for-profit groups to advertise community events. The decision followed public uproar over the possibility a proposed flag designed by Kelowna's Right to Life society would be approved.
Last week, the society mistakenly announced on its website that the city had approved its design – which included "pro-life" in bright red capital letters – for a spot during the week of activities surrounding its annual fundraising walk in late September. The application had not yet been approved, said Tom Wilson, the city's communications supervisor.
The society's original flag design included the term "pro-life," an image of a toddler, young girl and a senior, along with the phrase: "From conception to natural death." That design was rejected, said Mr. Wilson.
Under city council's guidelines, special interest groups' flags could not "promote a point of view or organization of a political, ethical [or] religious nature."
Mr. Wilson said he informed the society its flag was more likely to be approved without words on it. But the second design retained "pro-life."
Marlon Bartram, the Right to Life society's executive director, said he had a verbal agreement with the city that, if he removed the phrase from the flag, it would be approved – which is why the society made the premature announcement.
"We don't do things by verbal agreement," said Mr. Wilson, adding he never spoke to Mr. Bartram, but to another society member to explain the rejection.
The society is not surprised the city responded to negative press and public pressure, said Mr. Bartram, but it hadn't expected the decision to end the courtesy program, ending any possibility the group could get a flag approved.
"They've been very fair to other groups over the last couple of years," he said. "So we were fully expecting that they would give us the same treatment and allow us our moment in the sky – so to speak – before they did away with the program altogether."
Only one flag has ever flown over city hall under the program, Mr. Wilson said. For two years, he said, the city approved the Okanagan Rainbow Coalition's request to fly a rainbow flag – without any words – during gay pride week.
Council's vote to abolish the courtesy flag pole means means that next year, the coalition can't fly its banner at city hall, which will allow only federal, provincial and municipal flags.
With a report from The Canadian Press