Just after sunrise Thursday, 89-year-old Francis Barrett accomplished something that had never been done before in the nation’s capital: raising an anti-abortion flag in front of City Hall.
The grey flag was emblazoned with the words “National March for Life Ottawa” in white and red, and as Barrett pulled on the rope to hoist the flag to the top of the pole, a crowd of more than 20 cheered and applauded.
“I was in second heaven,” said Barrett, a retired RCMP intelligence officer who describes himself as a “pro-life warrior.” He couldn’t stop smiling at the sight of the waving flag, he said.
But others couldn’t stomach what they saw.
‘Difficult to be in this building today’
The social media backlash began after a video of the anti-abortion flag raising was posted on Twitter around 11 a.m. ET. Two hours later, seven city councillors had signed a letter demanding the flag be taken down.
“It was very difficult to be in this building today, to have that flag flying outside,” said Coun. Catherine McKenney.
“Women have a constitutional right to safe abortions and safe health care that includes abortion, and we cannot in any way as public office holders, as your City Hall, in the public space, give you any other message than that we are here to uphold all bylaws, all laws and your constitutional laws.”
About 30 minutes after the councillor’s letter came out, Mayor Jim Watson tweeted he was asking the city clerk’s office to review the proclamation and flag-raising policy.
I have asked the City’s Clerk’s Office for a completed review of the Proclamations and Flag raising policy.
“According to our city solicitor, it meets the criteria of flying the flag. We have to review the policy because I don’t think it’s acceptable to have that flag flying because it’s stating a position that most of our city is opposed to — I’m certainly opposed to,” he said.
According to the city’s top lawyer, Rick O’Connor, refusing to fly the National March for Life flag could have violated Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Watson said he found out the night before the event that the flag raising had been approved, but couldn’t do anything about it because staff, not elected officials, determine which flags will be raised.
The flag waved from City Hall on the same day as thousands marched on Parliament Hill to rally for the rights of the fetus. The city has recognized the National March for Life with an official proclamation since 2002, but the day had never been commemorated with a flag until Thursday morning.
Backlash cuts short flag flying time
Barrett was told the flag would fly from sun up to sundown, at 8:30 p.m., but after the online backlash, it was taken down six hours early, by order of the city solicitor. O’Connor cited a…