Yesterday, rookie Conservative MP John Carmichael (Don Valley West) introduced a Private Member’s Bill, C-288, that would criminalize prohibitions on displaying the Canadian flag. The vaguely-worded bill is aimed at landlords who would prevent their residents from flying flags on the outside of their buildings. Initially, any landlord found in contravention of the law would receive a legal directive to allow the flying of the Canadian flag. Failing that, the landlord could be sentenced up to two years in jail.
This very concern arose two years ago at an Ottawa apartment building. Two Korean War Veterans, among others, were not allowed keep flying the Canadian flags that they had on their balconies. The management of the property stated that the flags did not fit with the visual aesthetic they were hoping to maintain. (My preliminary searches did not result in the discovery of the resolution of this controversy.)
There is no fundamental right to fly the Canadian flag. Section 2. (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does, however, guarantee all Canadians freedom of expression. Freedom of expression would demand that people be free to fly the flag, barring reasonable and justifiable limits that a government might set.
Equally, freedom of expression would demand that people be free to not fly the flag, and this is the applicable point. The government will be contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms if they pass a law that infringes on a property owner’s freedom to choose whether or not to display a flag. Condominium owners and renters have no ownership of the outside of the buildings in which they reside, and, thus, no claim to a right to use that building as a means of expression. They would have the freedom to display flags from inside their windows, but that would be all.
As it is written, this bill goes further than just policing landlords. It would bar anyone from stopping anyone else from displaying a flag anywhere (unless it was displayed in an improper manner). Theoretically, such a law would make anyone’s building everyone else’s potential flag pole. It’s a ridiculous extension of the intent of the law, but it is, from the plain language of the bill, what is being proposed. Further, it is a perfect distillation of the intent of this bill. The bill is not an attempt to expand the protection of citizens’ civil rights; it is a restriction on civil rights.
It should be very simple: your building, your choice.