Rommel Silverio, believed to be the city’s first city councillor of Filipino heritage, pushed back against fellow councillors Monday after they advised the city to stop raising foreign national flags.
Mayor Rebecca Alty raised the agenda item during the government priorities committee meeting noting that the city has no formal written policy for when it is appropriate to lower flags, raise flags or make official proclamations. Typically, all flag events are carried out in response to requests solely from local residents and are followed through as long as they are respectful, she said.
“Our practice is that when we get requests for proclamations and flag raisings at city hall, they are brought forward by different community representatives and it is an opportunity for the city to show and acknowledge the cultural richness in Yellowknife, she said.
At least three councillors said Monday that the practice of raising flags of other countries outside of Canada was, at the very least, questionable and could lead to awkward controversies particularly if the country has poor human rights records.
Silverio, however, said when the Filipino flag is raised and the country is recognized in June for Filipino Heritage Month, it brings him and other Filipinos in Yellowknife pride. The month is noted for the Philippines’ decolonization from Spain and for when Canada started bilateral relations with the Asian country.
“If we stop flying country flags it seems to me we are going backwards,” he said, noting the municipality should continue following the example set by Canadian parliament which endorsed Motion 155 in 2018 that recognizes the contributions of Filipino Canadians with Filipino Heritage Month.
“Since I became a councilllor I saw no issue of raising flags of different countries. It makes me feel proud. So I don’t think we should stop doing that.
“When we recognize a second group of people here, it gives them pride and honour to be part of this community. This is why Yellowknife is a good place because it gives us diversity.”
Couns. Niels Konge and Shauna Morgan said they are against flying national flags other than the Canadian maple leaf. Cynthia Mufandaedza said she would like to learn what other jurisdictions do before making a decision.
All, except Silverio, shared similar views that raising other national flags can open the door to the public misinterpreting that the city endorses countries’ human rights records when they fly flags of countries with poor human rights records.
“For me personally I would say we should stop flying country flags,” Konge said. “Anybody who is in Canada , who is proud to be in Canada – which hopefully everyone is – we are in Canada and under the Canadian flag.
“I believe that wholeheartedly. I have dual citizenship to another country and I would never imagine going there and flying the Canadian flag.”
Mufandaedza said there have been times when some flags flown were questionable.
“Sometimes we have seen flags that we don’t generally agree on with, say, the human rights record of a certain country and seeing the flag flying, for me, makes it look like we are in agreement,” she said. “I am curious as to how other jurisdictions would handle that.”
Mufandaedza, who was born in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, said in a separate interview that she appreciated Silvero’s opinion, but added that if a Zimbabwean flag were flown, it might cause confusion.
“It depends on what it is really standing for,” she said when asked what she would think of a Zimbabwean flag being flown. “Right now Zimbabwe is not at peace. So, are we flying the flag because we are in support of the nation of Zimbabwe or are we celebrating (the people).
“If we are celebrating the people – we have a Zimbabweans in Yellowknife Association – and if that is what we are supporting, I would suggest the association at least go the Zimbabwean side, get an association flag, and that is what we would fly.
“We are patriotic and love our flag – but I also don’t want to say that this is the flag we want to fly because we are happy with what the nation is doing right now.”
Coun. Morgan said she supports following the higher levels of government for half-mast, but said it isn’t the municipality’s job to delve into foreign policy issues by flying foreign flags.
“I would like to continue flying flags of different issues or causes when appropriate to raise awareness about important things happening things in the community or causes, but I agree we should no longer fly flags of other countries,” she said.
“Nationalism is such a very tricky thing and we are really in no position here at the municipal level or it is not our jobs to be debating foreign policy and records of other countries – either current or past events.”
Alty said council has the opportunity to leave the informal practice as it stands or have city staff research and come up with a more formal procedure after some research.
Administration was directed to come back to council at a later date with proposed protocols.