Region to review flag raising policy following Israel-Gaza conflict

Recommended changes will be considered by council at a meeting next week, on June 28. Pictured: Regional Chair Jim Bradley. Photo Credit: Niagara Region. 

Niagara Region’s Corporate Services Committee is recommending that Niagara Regional Council change its policies to prevent the flying of foreign flags after controversy broke out when an Israeli flag was raised at the Region’s Thorold headquarters after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

The recommendation will be considered by council at a meeting next week, on June 28. 

Immediately following Hamas’s attack on Israel last October, Chair Jim Bradley instructed staff to raise the Israeli flag at the Region’s Thorold headquarters and light the Niagara sign in blue and white as a sign of solidarity with the people of Israel.

However, when Councillor Haley Bateman sought to have council signal its support for the Palestinian cause in January, her proposal was rejected in a 26-2 vote. Many pointed out that council’s refusal to signal solidarity with Palestinians directly contradicted Bradley’s moves last October to show solidary with Israel.

Most councillors rejected Bateman’s motion because they suggested local government was not responsible for the conducting of Canadian foreign policy. That caused controversy with Bateman’s supporters, who pointed to the Region’s actions in October to show solidary with Israel and suggested that there was a double standard.

The recommendation from the Corporate Services Committee follows a report submitted to that committee by regional staff. 

“At its meeting held on March 6, 2024, the Corporate Services Committee directed staff to undertake a review of the current [flag raising] policy and provide suggestions for possible amendments,” reads the report. “Staff conducted a scan of policies from both the local area municipalities and approximately 15 other municipalities and reviewed problematic areas within the policy and are proposing a number of amendments.” 

Those amendments include: removing the option to fly national flags other than Canada’s, providing more specificity around community flag raising requests and lighting requests for the Niagara sign, and aligning the flag raising and community sign lighting criteria. 

Council can choose to adopt certain aspects of the report’s recommendations and not others, but the report specifically recommends that council adopt all of its recommendations. 

The current flag raising policy is technically in the hands of the Region’s clerk. Clerk Ann-Marie Norio makes flag raising decisions in consultation with the chair’s office and the chief administrative officer, as required. 

Flag raising has not previously caused this degree of controversy, which helped trigger a recommendation from the Corporate Services Committee to change the Region’s policy going forward. 

The Region has 17 official flag poles. Twelve are reserved for the flags of each of the Region’s municipalities and another three for regional, provincial and national flags. That leaves two flag poles left that can be used to fly flags requested by the community or, at the present time, at the behest of senior officials. 

Should the Region opt to adopt the Corporate Services Committee’s recommendations, it would follow in the footsteps of other municipalities, including St. Catharines, in removing the option to fly national flags that are not Canada’s. 

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