Ottawa Citizen

Catholic board to debate flying rainbow flag

Trustee concerned motion being `rushed' and won't allow enough time for input

- ELIZABETH PAYNE epayne@postmedia.com

The Ottawa Catholic School Board will debate Tuesday whether to raise the rainbow Pride flag for the first time with a motion that at least one trustee is criticizin­g for being “rushed.”

Catholic school boards across the province have debated similar motions in recent weeks as the beginning of June, which is Pride month, approaches.

A motion to fly the rainbow flag at the Ottawa board's Catholic Education Centre beginning this June and on a permanent basis at the centre and at board schools beginning next year was placed on the agenda late last week.

Trustee Spencer Warren, who moved the motion, said it is something he has been passionate about since being a trustee with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

“(I) believe that everyone has the right to be loved unconditio­nally and be treated with dignity. After all, Love is Love!” Warren wrote in an email. He declined to discuss his views any further, saying he would wait until Tuesday “out of respect for my fellow trustees and the collective board.”

One of those trustees, Glen Armstrong, has been vocal on Twitter with concerns that the motion, which was placed on the agenda just before the long weekend, is being rushed through and won't get the attention it deserves, or allow time for people to express their views.

“There is a Pride flag motion being brought forward next Tuesday,” he tweeted. “It is my opinion that it is being rushed. We need to give more notice so the public is able to bring their delegation­s forward prior to the vote. Just my opinion.”

Armstrong, who is running for nomination as the federal Conservati­ve candidate in Nepean, declined to comment to the Citizen, but on Twitter he noted that he has been hearing from people with concerns.

“Sampling of what I'm hearing from parents on the Pride flag motion next Tuesday,” he tweeted, quoting one of those messages: “I am opposed to my taxes being used to fund such an ongoing, unnecessar­y expense.”

The motion calls for the school board to authorize funds for installing a second flagpole at each school in the board, if required, by June 2022 for flying the rainbow flag during Pride month. It also calls on the board to fly the flag on a second flagpole at the Catholic Education Centre throughout the year.

Catholic boards in Toronto and Waterloo voted to fly the Pride flag. The Halton District Catholic School Board, outside Toronto, voted down a similar motion. In response, all nine of the Halton Catholic board's high schools tweeted messages of acceptance, tolerance and diversity.

Some changed their logos to include rainbow colours to show support for LGBTQ students.

Board spokespers­on Sharlene Hunter said Tuesday's board meeting is the first since the Toronto Catholic board passed its motion to fly the flag at schools and their board office, as did the Waterloo and Dufferin Peel boards.

“The passed motion by Toronto Catholic resulted in questions to our board to see if we would be doing something similar,” Hunter said.

Hunter said Pride month has been recognized in Ottawa Catholic Board schools for several years.

“This includes Gay and Straight Alliances, posters in our schools designed by students, prayers of inclusion, etc.”

Tuesday's motion, she said, is a result of students and staff “looking for the board to do more to support youth in our schools.” The Pride flag would fly in June and the Canadian flag and board flag would fly on the poles during the rest of the year, she said.

The board requires delegation­s to sign up seven days in advance, but the agenda for the meeting was released only Friday afternoon and the meeting is Tuesday evening.

Hunter said people wishing to speak at the meeting can sign up 30 minutes in advance to make a presentati­on.

“Public sessions provide an opportunit­y for a member of the public to address a time-sensitive item.”

She said a number of Catholic boards across the province are addressing the issue of flying the rainbow flag at their board meetings next week, because it needs to be addressed before June 1.

She said there are a number of ways for community members to give input on issues, including emailing or phoning a trustee.

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