The contentious Confederate flag — which is often regarded as a symbol of racial oppression — was proudly flying at a downtown Hamilton construction site Monday morning.

It belonged to a man working on renovations at Hamilton's historic Treble Hall, at the corner of King and John Streets. The man, who repeatedly refused to give his name to a reporter, happily posed with the flag for pictures, where it was attached to his pickup truck on the job site.

On Facebook, the man identified himself as Keith Lipiec.

"I just wanted to do it for sh-ts and giggles — and if I piss a few people off along the way, then so be it," Lipiec said, smiling. He said several people had taken offense to his use of the flag, while others offered their support.

'I cannot allow signs of hatred or racism on our job site.'
- Rachid Mamilli, construction site manager

In recent years, the flag has been removed from the South Carolina State House and decried by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Debates have raged for decades over whether it represents southern pride and a state's right to freedom, or whether it is nothing more than a symbol of racism and hatred.

Tensions around the symbol escalated even further this month, after a car sped into a group of several dozen counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

The flag has been adopted by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, avowed fascists and several other ultra right-wing groups.

Man shrugs off Charlottesville violence

Lipiec claimed that he didn't have any political views on what happened in Charlottesville.

"Yeah, some guy ran over a whole bunch of people, so be it. It happens every day," he said.

"There's good and there's bad [with the flag] — same as the swastika, and the Nazis, and that flag. That was stolen from the religious people that actually believed in that symbol and everybody mistakes it for Hitler and the Nazis, and it's not even true."

The swastika is considered a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism. It can be seen in temples or houses in India and Indonesia, but is now undeniably and universally seen as a symbol of hatred since its adoption by Hitler and the Nazis before the Second World War.

Counterprotesters Q&A

In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, counter-protesters tear a Confederate flag during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. (Shaban Athuman/Richmond Times-Dispatch/The Associated Press)

Local artist Matt Jelly challenged the man's use of the flag at the site Monday morning, and the two got into a shouting match about it in the parking lot behind Treble Hall, where his truck was parked.

Jelly said after the fact that he did not want to comment on the exchange. Afterwards, Lipiec removed the flag from his truck, but pledged to put it back up again.

'There is no racism allowed on our site'

Project management group Yoke Group is overseeing the construction at Treble Hall.

Site manager Rachid Mamilli told CBC News that he was heading to the job site Monday afternoon to tell the man he was not allowed to fly the flag there.

"There is no racism allowed on our site," Mamilli said. "I cannot allow signs of hatred or racism on our job site."

"He's just a young guy, I have to tell him to take it down," he said, adding that if the man refused, he would be removed from the job site.

Mamilli said Lipiec was working on the site for a month on a temporary basis, and is going to school to become a crane operator.

A source of controversy

This isn't the first time that the confederate flag has caused controversy in Hamilton.

In 2013, the owner of a now-shuttered southern BBQ restaurant called "Hillbilly Heaven" used the flag to promote his eatery, which caused plenty of backlash.

The flag has also been seen flying in the backyard of a Dundas, Ont., home for two decades. Norfolk County Fair vendors were told to stop selling Confederate flags last year.

Gerald Horne, a professor of history at the University of Houston, told CBC News in a previous interview that the Confederate flag was flown in 1861 when southern states were trying to secede from America because they thought incoming president Abraham Lincoln would abolish slavery. This clash was one of several factors leading to the U.S. Civil War.

The flag was symbolic of preserving slavery, and that meaning remains today, Horne said.

"The confederate flag stands for slavery," Horne said at the time. "It stands for backwardness. It stands for reactionary politics. It stands for going backwards."

adam.carter@cbc.ca