A southwestern Ontario municipality that banned Pride and other non-government flags on its buildings last year has effectively reversed its decision, after the policy stepped up tension and division in the community.
The Township of Norwich's council has voted in favour of establishing a closely monitored community flagpole — flags representing various causes and ideas can be raised at the request of residents.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction for our community," said Lynne DePlancke, one of three Norwich councillors who voted in favour of the move. Two councillors voted against it.
In April, the small town made national headlines after council voted to ban non-government flags on city-owned property. Council debated the new policy in December.
Pride flags were repeatedly being stolen from homes and vandalized. At the time, LGBTQ community members told CBC News that they believed the council ban was designed to target Pride flags specifically, and residents siding with it said they believed the Canadian flag adequately represented the interests of all Canadians.
On Jan. 9, council preapproved this list of flags that can be flown on the flagpole at a community building:
The Netherlands flag.
The United Empire Loyalists flag.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day flag.
The United Nations flag.
The Pride flag.
Remembrance Day flags.
Flags belonging to service clubs and minor sports organizations.
Black History Month flags.
Every Child Matters flags.
Tami Murray, president of Oxford County Pride, said having an avenue to fly the Pride flag is a clear and tangible step toward repairing community division.
The flag ban "felt like it was attached to discriminatory actions," Murray said, referring to Pride flag thefts both leading up to and after the ban.
"This is about being progressive and inclusive, and bridging a divide that doesn't need to be there."
The community flagpole will be monitored through video surveillance, which DePlancke hopes will be enough to deter vandalism.
"I'm quite sure the Pride flag will go up at some point for a week in June. I think the community as a whole will be aware of what could happen to it," she said. "A lot of people have realized that all we're trying to do is accept everyone in our community.
"Diversity, inclusiveness and equality for all is really what we should all stand for."