Tank: Professional-life flag flap might reopen outdated debate in Saskatoon

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It’s probably not the proclamation that affects some Saskatoon city councilors – it’s the possibility of a flag with a cartoon fetus flying next to City Hall

Author of the article:

Phil Tank Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Publication date:

16 Dec 2018December 16, 2018Read for 3 minutes Join the conversation In this 2016 file photo, members of the Prince Albert Right to Life Association display the Celebrate Life Week flag, which has sparked controversy over the city’s flagpole policy. (Prince Albert Daily Herald file photo) Saskatoon

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In May 1994 the Saskatoon City Council rejected a motion to declare Gay Pride Day in the city.

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It may have been the first time a motion for such a proclamation has been denied in Saskatoon.

Monday evening, the current council will decide whether to accept a motion to proclaim and flag the Saskatoon chapter from Alliance for Life, a pro-life group opposed to abortion and assisted suicide.

Art Robinson, who covered City Hall for The StarPhoenix 24 years ago, warned in a column that rejecting Lesbian and Gay Pride Day could mean “a terrible slide down a slippery slope”.

Robinson ironically noted that the council had approved an anti-discrimination day at the same meeting and said it was the first time he could remember that such a motion was denied.

The proclamation was rejected with a 5 to 5 tie in the absence of a city council. Then-Mayor Henry Dayday voted against the motion, while longtime former councilors Kate Waygood, Glen Penner and Donna Birkmaier supported it.

Changes followed about a year later to remove political considerations from the proclamation decision-making process.

In the context of the current politics, which was shaped by the Gay Pride decision of 1995, the city clerk has discretion for the review of motions for proclamations. The town clerk signs such proclamations instead of the mayor, but the council still approves them, almost always with a stamp.

Saskatoon does not have a formal flag-raising policy, but these requests usually follow the proclamation protocol.

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Political parties and business enterprises are excluded from proclamations, as are messages promoting hatred, illegal activities – so Pot Smoking Week is all right now – or “inflammatory, obscene or defamatory” messages.

Proclamations are usually approved as a group, so what happened in June was extremely unusual. Count. Hilary Gough wanted more information about the Alliance for Life request.

Count. Zach Jeffries and Coun. Randy Donauer became suspicious. Carole Tokaruk’s emailed request is poorly worded but certainly understandable, as Jeffries noted.

Tokaruk says she plans to hold a “Pro-Life Week” from January 21-28, “and we are demanding that the mayor proclaim“ Respect for Life Week ”this week, with the option of a flag-raising ceremony.”

It’s not exactly dripping with ambiguity. At the same June meeting, the council approved proclamations ranging from National Injury Prevention Day to National Veterinary Technician Week.

Saskatoon declared a week of respect for life in 1976, 1980 and 2001, according to a city report.

It’s probably not the proclamation that preoccupies some councilors – it’s the possibility of a flag with a cartoon fetus flying next to the town hall.

Donauer warned against going back to the days when the council made decisions about which groups would receive proclamations and flag raising. The council still voted 6-2 to seek more information on the Alliance for Life request as three council members were absent.

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Tokaruk responded with a handwritten note in September that made no mention of the flag being raised. Interestingly, Tokaruk, who was unavailable from The StarPhoenix, seems to think that City Hall did not receive her first message.

Why did it take so long to answer again? The city administration announced that the matter is being investigated.

Stranger still, why was the subject on the agenda of an in-camera meeting of the council committee on December 10th? (We only know about this because the agenda was accidentally posted.)

Whether the month-long review will prove to be a tactic to reject an application without a politician feeling obliged to comment should be shown on Monday evening.

The reporting council will refer to the city of Prince Albert, which has been sued by the Judicial Center for Constitutional Rights for its refusal to fly a pro-life flag.

The flag showed a cartoon fetus named Umberto the Unborn and the message: “Please let me live.”

Provocative? Certainly. Flammable? Possibly.

Separately, Prince Albert City Council voted earlier this year to end the practice of offering a flagpole for community use to avoid legal challenge.

Monday night, the Saskatoon Council will reopen a debate that some thought ended a generation ago.

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