This year city council had several discussions about abortion and about LGTBQ rights disguised as discussions about the banners and flags that have for years been hung by community organizations across the 300 block of Baker Street and on flag poles at city hall.
Wishing to avoid putting up an anti-abortion banner like those that caused controversy in previous years, council decided in March to get a legal opinion on whether hanging such a banner contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Nelson Right to Life banner in 2018 read: “Right to Life Week. Speaker, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre. Walk for Life, Nov. 11, 2 p.m. at Lakeside Park.”
Pushing for the legal opinion, councillor Brittny Anderson said, “I do understand the freedom of speech argument and think there should be freedom of speech, but we also need to hold up the sexual and reproductive rights of women.”
In May, after receiving the legal opinion but not revealing what it said, council banned all banners and flags.
“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 just use it for our own events,” Mayor John Dooley said at the time.
Council decided groups who applied for the banner or flags prior to May 10 would have their requests honoured even if they were hung later in 2019.
Pride and transgender flags were raised in front of city hall for a week in early August, along with a Pride banner on Baker, accompanied by contradictory explanations from the city and Kootenay Pride about whether the flag-raisers applied before May 10 or whether council or staff simply made an ad-hoc exception outside of a council meeting.
On Sept. 3, city council revisited the issue again and created a new policy that banned banners (except for city events) and ruled that anyone wishing to raise a flag would have to apply to council (not to city staff) on a case-by-case basis.
Examples of organizations that have hung banners in the past include LVR grads, Dance Umbrella, Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, the Kalein Centre, Kootenay Pride, the Nelson Road Kings, and Selkirk College fine woodworking show, as well as Nelson Right to Life.