Nelson residents may have a right to life, but they don’t have a right to the city’s banner.
City council has decided to rescind the Community Flag and Street Banner policy, which effectively ends years of outrage over controversial uses of the sign that hangs over Baker Street.
The policy had previously allowed local non-profit groups to use banner and flag poles at City Hall to promote community events.
But council sought legal opinion on the use of the banner after councillor Brittny Anderson asked during a meeting in March whether a right-to-life banner hung annually downtown violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The legal opinion has not been made public. Council voted unanimously in favour of rescinding the policy, with the exception of Anderson who was not present for the vote.
Council already limited the policy to event promotion in 2017 after a pro-life group sparked outrage by using the banner to state “Respect human life from conception to a natural death.”
Mayor John Dooley said council’s solution was to rid themselves of the problem altogether.
“At the end of the day, it’s my opinion and the opinion of council that that’s municipal property and if we’re going to use it for anything, we should use it for our own events,” he said.
Groups who applied for the banner or flags prior to May 10 will have their requests honoured. But after that the signs will only be used to promote city initiatives such as Fire Prevention Week.
That means no Kootenay Pride flags at City Hall, no Metis flag to mark Louis Riel Day, no Nelson Road Kings banner.
Dooley said he didn’t want half measures that might leave the city open to its policy being challenged in the future.
“Really it’s just better to get away completely and divest ourselves of that particular initiative entirely,” he said. “It takes up a ton of resources. It’s expensive to get legal opinions, and there are some groups out there that the reality is they are really pushing the envelope as hard as they can and forced us into spending money for something we really shouldn’t be involved in the first place.”
Stephanie Myers, who works for Kootenay Pride and has helped other organizations such as Kootenay Co-op Radio and the Nelson Business Association put their banners up downtown, called the decision disappointing.
“They need to step up and take responsibility of their elected positions and say yes to some things and no to some things. Just carte blanche saying, ‘we’re not going to get involved anymore,’ seems like the easy way out.”