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Another Northern Alberta town is looking to ban Pride flags, crosswalks

A proposed bylaw would limit crosswalks to the traditional white stripes and flags on town property in Barrhead, Alberta
Ard Doornboss and Jonathan Warkentin are two of the organizers of Barrhead Neutrality, an organization that has launched a petition to eliminate rainbow crosswalks and prohibit decorative crosswalks on municipal property.

A group of Barrhead-area residents is following a similar organization in Westlock by initiating a petition designed to prohibit decorative flags and crosswalks on the Town of Barrhead’s property through a Neutrality Bylaw.

Barrhead Neutrality says municipal government and its property should remain neutral, and crosswalks other than those with the traditional white stripes or flags other than the Canadian, provincial or municipal flag are not neutral. Pride rainbow flags, crosswalks and other types of decorative crosswalks would be banned if the bylaw were to pass.

Ard Doornboss and Jonathan Warkentin, two of the organizers of Barrhead Neutrality, told the Barrhead Leader the petition is in response to the Town of Barrhead's Decorative Crosswalk Policy, which council approved on May 14.

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The policy, patterned after a similar document drafted by the City of Edmonton, sets the criteria that community groups must meet to get the municipality's approval to paint a crosswalk. 

Ideally, they said, they hope to sway councillors with the petition to rescind the Decorative Crosswalk Policy, replacing it with their neutrality bylaw.

If not, Doornboss and Warkentin hope to garner enough signatures to trigger a vote under the Muncipal Government Act to force the adoption of the bylaw.

"It is interesting to go through the policy's wording. The policy aims to enhance Barrhead's landscape and make the town more vibrant and colourful," Doornboss said. "We are not against that. We think it is a great objective for the town council to have, but we believe things like snow removal, garbage pickup, and better accessibility to public buildings make the community more beautiful."

However, Doornboss added, he did not believe beautification was council's true purpose for the policy.

"This is what brings us to the petition. We believe crosswalks should be crosswalks and public spaces, public spaces," he said.

The Town’s current policy allows any group to paint a crosswalk as long as it is free from advertising, text, logos, or political symbols. It also states that no proposal from a group or organization that contains symbols of hatred, violence, lewdness, or racism will be accepted.

The duo said painted sidewalks under that policy would not represent neutrality.

Before adopting the policy, the Barrhead Royal Canadian Legion and the Barrhead Accessibility Coalition petitioned the council for a decorative sidewalk on Main Street.

In the example of a potential Legion crosswalk, the Barrhead Neutrality website states that it would not be neutral as it would "serve the purpose of creating awareness for our veterans."

It is unknown whether the Legion still plans to proceed with the crosswalk, but the Barrhead Accessibility Coalition has stated that it intends to apply for a decorative crosswalk next year.

The municipality has also flown a Treaty 6 flag on its flagpoles at the Barrhead Agrena.

Barrhead Neutrality's website states: "[Town of Barrhead council] is allowing our town to be used as a billboard for various groups, communities and organizations" and that "We need neutrality in public places."

Barrhead Neutrality is currently focused on crosswalks and municipal flagpoles as opposed to displays and events on other municipal properties such as the nativity scene in Gazebo Park, Christmas decorations on light standards, and Yuill Park. 

"It flows from the discussion at the town council level about the crosswalk policy," Doornboss said. "That seems to be the focal point, and the policy deals with crosswalks, so we felt that was a good starting point." 

Doornboss and Warkentin said they have somewhere between 20 and 30 volunteers who will go door-to-door collecting signatures. They have also reached out to the Westlock Neutrality group for assistance.

For the petition to be valid, it must include the names of 10 per cent of those eligible to vote in the municipal election.

They have 60 days, starting from June 4, to collect the names. If successful, the municipality has 45 days from when they officially receive it to confirm the petition's validity. If the petition is ruled valid, the town then has 30 days for the bylaw to be drafted and pass first reading, following which they have 90 days to set a municipal-wide plebiscite, with the vote determining if the bylaw is enacted.


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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