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Home Canadian March for Life flag controversy raises free speech issues

March for Life flag controversy raises free speech issues

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Negative social media campagin removes pro-life symbol from public

By Deborah Gyapong

OTTAWA (CCN)
 
 
Photo caption: For half a day, the March for Life Ottawa flag flew at City Hall until controversy erupted and it was pulled down. (Submitted by Paul Lauzon)
 
Controversy over a pro-life flag raised at Ottawa’s City Hall has raised free speech concerns.
 
“The whole thing boils down to freedom of speech” and a “phasing out” of Christianity, said Frank Barrett, 88, the retired RCMP officer and pro-life activist who successfully got the flag raised only to have it taken down following a negative social media campaign and the objections of city councilors.
 
“I can have my opinion; you can have yours but we can be civil about it,” he said. “I’m very disappointed,” Barrett said.
 
Constitutional lawyer Don Hutchinson, author of Under Seige: Religious Freedom in Canada at 150, agrees there is a freedom of speech implication in City Hall’s move to take down the flag. At his website donhutchinson.com Hutchinson explained the City Hall flag pole has become a “symbol for free speech.”
 
Hutchinson also took aim at the written demand by six Ottawa City Councilors that the flag be taken down. The councilors asserted: “Safe access to abortion is a fundamental and constitutionally protected right enjoyed by all women in Canada.”
 
There is no constitutional “right” to abortion, Hutchinson argued, noting the Supreme Court of Canada in the Morgentaler decision in fact recognized Parliament has a “constitutional interest in the child before birth.”
 
 “The only right at issue in raising and lowering the flag at City Hall is the constitutional right to freedom of expression (and) free speech ...,” said Hutchinson.
 
Barrett said he was inspired to see the flag raised because of a spate of mainstream media stories in recent weeks painting protestors outside the Morgentaler abortion clinic in a negative light.
 
After urging media to tell all sides of the story, without success, he came up with the idea of a flag reflecting the theme of this year’s march, “Life –  We Stand on Guard for Thee.” Eventually he found a grey National March for Life Ottawa flag, which was accepted by a City Hall employee.
 
At dawn on May 11 – at precisely 5:22 a.m. –  a small group of pro-life activists gathered at Ottawa City Hall to raise the flag.
 
Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, was present. “We went, said prayers, sang the National Anthem,” said Hughes. “It was very good.”
Barrett did not know his flag had been taken down until he received a call from a reporter at 3 p.m.
 
Campaign Life’s president said the controversy had a bright side because without it the March for Life would have received no media coverage. “The only story they found out of it was the flag.”
 

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