A request from the Houston Pro-Life group, asked District of Houston council for permission to place 10,000 blue and pink flags to bring awareness to the number of abortions performed each year in Canada along Steelhead Park for day of June 24, 2017. It was recommended by district staff to deny the request, as it is in conflict of with one of town’s development bylaws.
“On the grounds that our development bylaw prohibits the use of flag signs in all zones except for commercial and highway commercial zones,” said Gerald Pinchbeck, Corporate Service Officer for the District of Houston.
Pinchbeck said this does not prevent the group from submitting a separate permit of application to hold the signs if they so choose.
Counsellor John Siebenga moved that the recommendation be striked. “It’s conflicting the charter of rights under section two. We, on the basis of this, are defining what controversial means. And that is not up to us.”
Siebenga also said that it is council’s job to ensure that there is free speech. “And that the events happen in a safe place, and that they are law abiding.”
He added that the flags are actually irrigation markers and that over 50 communities across Canada have these flag displays.
“For me in particular, the issue is on having it on district property implies an endorsement from the district. And for me, being pro-choice, I don’t wish for any motion like to speak on my behalf,” said counsellor Tim Anderson.
Mayor Shane Brienen said, “I think we are getting into a debate about pro-life here, which I don’t think is what we are looking at in the recommendation here. I don’t believe we are taking away anyone’s freedom of speech.”
“My issue is with sticking things into our lawn. Does this characterize as flags or signs? And what damage is that going to do to our ground?” asked counsellor Rick Lundrigan.
Siebenga said that the signs are smaller than the diameter of a pen. “A strong point in Ottawa was that the groundskeeper there said you are doing us a favour by airing the lawns,” he added.
“Is this considered advertising?” asked Lundrigan.
“Our park bylaw says that as long as the sign is permitted by our development bylaw, it is permitted in our park. So that is why this recommendation was made because these signs are strictly prohibited from our park and recreation zone,” said Pinchbeck.
Discussion about the safety of protesters along the highway was raised by Sienebga.
“I would say that if we are concerned about the safety of our community, which we should be, having them reapply to place the flags on core commercial or highway commercial is very dangerous,” said Siebenga.
“Are we denying on the usage of the park, or denying on the flags?” asked Brienen.
“We are denying on the usage of the park on the basis that the event is solely based on planting these flags in the park,” said Pinchbeck.
“So the way I am reading it is that they are welcomed to use the park without the use of the pin-flags, they just have to reapply for that permit,” said Brienen.
The recommendation was approved to deny the request with Sienbega voting as opposed.