Elliot Lake council agreed in a 4-2 vote to amend the city’s bylaw that will see the city hall flag lowered when a Canadian soldier is killed in action.
Only Councillor Tammy VanRoon was absent from, what was at times, a heated debate after declaring a conflict as she is an active member of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The vote was taken on a motion presented by Mayor Dan Marchisella, an Afghanistan war veteran, calling for the city flag to be lowered each time any member of the Canadian forces is killed in action. The city’s previous bylaw allowed for the flag-lowering if it involved a soldier with a “direct relationship” to the community.
The city’s previous bylaw also required the flag be lowered when a miner is killed at work anywhere in the world. However, council recognized that with mining deaths occurring almost daily somewhere across the globe, it would be more suitable to leave lowering the city flag to the discretion of CAO Dan Gagnon and the mayor.
The mayor’s motion has been part of an ongoing debate, both at council and in the public, and at times emotional. For the past few years, the mayor raised a similar motion to lower the flag when any member of the Canadian armed forces was killed in action in 2015. It prompted an appeal by a war veteran to council and a public petition to include recognizing all members of the armed forces who are killed in action.
“The City of Elliot Lake has a large amount of veterans and families related to currently serving members or veterans. Members of the Canadian Forces do not serve specific communities while enlisted, but serve the nation as a whole, sacrificing personal well-being while on active duty. Our soldiers protect our civil rights along with that of those in which countries they are deployed. On hundred and fifty-eight soldiers have been killed and over 2,000 severely injured while on active duty in Afghanistan since deployment of forces in 2002,” the mayor stated in his motion. “Although the majority of troops have been removed from Afghanistan, Canadian forces still have a presence for peace in multiple countries worldwide.
“The current structure of the flag policy allows for the municipality to honour and respect miners from around the world that have no direct relationship to the City of Elliot Lake or even Canada. The current structure of the flag policy will only honour a fallen soldier if they have direct relation to our community, although already established that soldiers protect all communities under the Canadian flag.”
The mayor noted that the flag policy change would have no financial impact on the city.
Councillor Ed Pearce recalled some of the previous discussions in council and among the public when the issue was raised before.
He said he supported the motion which he said would not create any financial burden or additional work for staff.
“This is a no brainer,” he said.
Councillor Norman Mann said he voted against changing the policy when the issue was first raised because at the time the current policy was in line with federal government regulations.
The councillor said if the flag bylaw is changed he does not want it resurface again “in six months” at council.
“Let’s get it right and not have to deal with it again,” he said.
Councillor Chris Patrie also supported the intention of the mayor’s motion, but suggested the change didn’t follow the city’s procedural bylaw which, according to him, doesn’t allow for an issue already voted down by council previously to come back to council. He said the bylaw requires that new information be put on the council agenda for the issue to come back to the table.
“I don’t have an issue with lowering the flag. I’m extremely troubled that we’re not following our own process,“ he said. “If something is going to be brought forward, there has to be a reason for it. I’m not saying this is not a good idea. There are rules and regulations we must follow.”
“Our procedural bylaw doesn’t require any new information,” the mayor said, countering Councillor Patrie’s concerns.
Councillor Connie Nykyforak also had concerns about the amendment proposed by the mayor.
She asked who was managing the flag policy, which calls for the flag to be put at half mast when a miner anywhere in the world is killed at work. The councillor said the city should respond on its website to questions about why the flag at city hall is at half mast.
The majority of council voted to move ahead with the change.