A group of Nova Scotia residents is calling for all levels of government to take action to ban the use or display of the Confederate battle flag across Canada.
Nova Scotian Citizens Against White Supremacy said at an event Wednesday that displaying the Confederate flag publicly should be considered a hate crime. The group has started a petition that calls for a government ban on public displays of the flag.
Social activist and event organizer Lynn Jones said she was shocked to see a Confederate flag painted on a pickup truck recently in her hometown of Truro, N.S.
"It wasn't just a flag around the truck, the truck was painted with the Confederate flag," said Jones at the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. "I thought, this is really, really scary. I was afraid."
The group, Nova Scotian Citizens Against White Supremacy, said it recognizes that achieving a country-wide ban on the flag would be difficult, but added that Wednesday's rally was also about educating the public about the flag's racist connotations.
Dalhousie University history professor and social activist Isaac Saney said it's important for people to know and understand the history of the flag, flown by Confederate troops in the field during the American Civil War.
"The flag is not just a symbol, it had a material impact in society," Saney told the rally, noting that it has been a symbol for proponents of slavery.
"It is a universal symbol of racism. That is without doubt and I think that there is no place for hate symbols, for symbols of white supremacy in Canada."
The killing of nine people at a black church in South Carolina last month prompted a fresh debate in the U.S. over the flag, prompting state legislators to vote to remove it from government grounds.
"It's unfortunate that massacre had to be the catalyst, but the fact that it was lowered in South Carolina is an indication that even in the southern U.S., it's become an obnoxious, odious symbol to so many people that politically they could not allow it to fly," said Saney.
Many Canadian retailers pulled the flag off their shelves following the shooting at the Charleston church.
Nova Scotia has a sizable population of black residents whose ancestors fled slavery in the southern United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The province has a history of racial tension, punctuated by incidents such as the forced relocation of black residents from their Halifax community of Africville by the city in the late 1960s to make way for industrial development.
In 2010, a man was found guilty of inciting hatred in a cross-burning incident the year before at the home of a mixed-race couple near Windsor, N.S.