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Rainbow Maple Leaf taken down
Pride flag at city hall raises councillor's ire

Erin Steele
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 14, 2014

A rainbow-coloured maple leaf flag raised at city hall in support of gay rights during the Olympics has been taken down after a city councillor complained that the national flag had been "defaced."

NNSL photo/graphic

In raising the LGBTQ pride version of the Canadian flag earlier this week, the City of Yellowknife was met with some criticism and replaced it with the fully rainbow flag now hanging. Pictured here are supporters of pride with the flag that was originally hoisted on Thursday afternoon. Cindy Perry, left, Iman Kassam, event director with NWT Pride, Nancy MacNeill, James MacKenzie, Kiera Hoekstra and Andrew Millichamp at the back. - Erin Steele/NNSL photo

The multi-coloured flag is like the Canadian flag, but with rainbow bars on each side instead. It was hoisted Tuesday morning then replaced Thursday by a full-fledged rainbow flag after complaints about the hybrid.

"A few people have mentioned they have an issue with the resemblance of this pride flag to the Canadian flag so rather than have this turn into a big discussion about the sanctity of the flag ,we want to keep the focus on the issue of human rights, equality and respect for diversity," said Mayor Mark Heyck who sought out the flag from NWT Pride, the group responsible for the city's annual festival.

The hybrid flag hung from the same spot during the weekend-long NWT Pride festival the last two years without contention.

Coun. Niels Konge stands against using the maple leaf hybrid flag, and began a lengthy debate about it on his public Facebook page.

"It's not the official pride flag and it's not the official Canadian flag. It's a defaced Canadian flag," he told Yellowknifer by phone.

Konge said he has no problem will the full rainbow flag, which now hangs.

"Last year it was Ecology North handing out green flags during Canada Day and I was just as appalled," he said. Iman Kassam, event director with NWT Pride, says regardless of what flag flies, she is glad the message in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) people is getting out.

"The point of raising the pride flag is to show Canada and the world that Yellowknife stands in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people. Regardless of which flag flies, the point has been made. We, Yellowknifers, believe in equity and human rights for all. Isn't it great that so many people are talking about human rights and the Olympics and Russia and LGBTQ+ rights?" she told Yellowknifer by e-mail.

In raising a pride flag, Yellowknife joins many cities across the country standing in contrast to Russia's anti-gay laws that include outlawing LGBTQ "propaganda," such as rainbow flags.

"To start at home, Yellowknife is a very diverse and tolerant and inclusive community so we feel that it's important to stand in solidarity with all these other communities who are doing this to express how our citizens feel about human rights," said Heyck.

He says there is plenty of room for such a position amidst the sporting events of the Games.

"Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a stance on human rights while you're enjoying the sporting events at the Olympics. I certainly don't think it takes anything away from the Olympics. Yesterday morning I was up bright and early and at the Fieldhouse at 2:30 a.m. to watch Michael Gilday skate and this morning we're hoisting the flag up on city hall," said Heyck on Tuesday.

Kassam says flying the flag is symbolic of the city's attitude toward diversity.

"There are still homophobic and prejudiced cities and communities in Canada and flying our flag above city hall is a symbolic expression just of the progressive attitude that Yellowknifers and Northerners have toward the LGBTQ community and our rights over here," said Kassam.

Both Iqaluit and Whitehorse, respectively the capitals of Nunavut and Yukon, have also raised rainbow flags.

Kassam says it's important to support LGBTQ communities in places around the world that do not share Canada's rights to "live and love."

"When we hear of such human rights violations it's disheartening and it's just so sad and it's hard for us as a gay community to hear and witness and watch these things around the world happening," said Kassam.

"There's also this double-edged sword, silver-lining at the end of it, that the entire international community is standing up. You have the LGBTQ community and our allies and human rights organizations that are all standing up and saying 'no,'" she said.

The full rainbow flag is set to remain at city hall for the duration of the Olympics.

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