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Heritage Minister James Moore announces plans to protect the rights of Canadians to fly the flag during an Ottawa news conference on Sept. 28, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Heritage Minister James Moore announces plans to protect the rights of Canadians to fly the flag during an Ottawa news conference on Sept. 28, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Maple Leaf forever?

Conservative flag-protection bill won't apply to MPs Add to ...

The Conservative government wants to make it illegal for anyone to stop Canadians from flying their county’s flag – unless those Canadians happen to be members of Parliament.

Heritage Minister James Moore told reporters on Wednesday that he and his fellow parliamentarians would still have to abide by the rules of the House of Commons that say no flags may be flown in the windows of Parliament Hill offices.

Those rules were adopted by the elected members and are governed by the Board of Internal Economy, which is chaired by Speaker Andrew Scheer.

They are approved on consensus, Mr. Moore said. “So whatever rules they have, it’s not a law, but it’s a consensus that all parties will operate on the standard within the Parliamentary precinct.”

Mr. Moore stood with MP John Carmichael last week when the backbench Tory, who represents Toronto’s Don Valley West, announced that he was tabling a bill that would result in fines or even jail terms for Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf.

It would expressly prohibit interfering with the display of the flag unless it is flown in a manner that is unbefitting, is for an improper use or has been desecrated in some way.

It’s hard to imagine that an MP who flew the flag out of his or her office window would do so in a way that falls under any of those exceptions. But Mr. Moore said “all members of Parliament comply with the Board of Internal Economy rules first” – before, apparently, the law.

The minister said last week that the bill was necessary because several Canadians have been surprised to learn they were not permitted to fly their flags. The incidents have mostly involved owners of condominiums where there are rules governing what residents may display on the exterior of their unit.

When asked if condo owners should not be required to follow the rules of their building, in the same way that MPs are required to follow the rules of the Parliamentary precinct, the minister turned and walked away.

A longstanding practice of the House of Commons dictates that displays of any kind have always been found unacceptable in both the Chamber and in the windows of Parliament. 

The rule was challenged in 1998 when MPs waved Canadian flags sang O Canada to drown out a question by Bloc Quebecois MP Suzanne Tremblay, who had complained about the large number of Canadian flags at the Nagano Olympics.

The Bloc responded by asking Gilbert Parent, who was then the Speaker, to enforce the ban on the Maple Leaf. In his ruling, Mr. Parent told MPs that he had been challenged to show his colours as a patriotic Canadian by allowing the unfettered display of flags in the Chamber.

“This would constitute an unprecedented unilateral change to the practice of the House of Commons, a change, my colleagues, that no Speaker has the authority to make,” Mr. Parent said. “So, whatever pressure that I have to do so, I cannot and I will not arrogate such authority to myself. Unless and until the House decides otherwise, no displays will be allowed and current practice will be upheld.”

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