Norfolk County Fair vendors told to stop selling Confederate flags

Vendors at the Norfolk County Fair, which ran from Tuesday through to Thanksgiving Monday, were selling merchandise featuring the Confederate flag.

Fair vendors were selling flags, hats featuring symbol of American slavery and white supremacy

The Confederate flag, removed from public grounds in South Carolina in 2015, is a widely-reviled symbol, but still has its supporters. The design was featured on merchandise at 2016's Norfolk County Fair. (Jason Miczek/Reuters)

Two vendors at the Norfolk County Fair were told to stop selling merchandise featuring the Confederate flag after complaints from a visitor to the Thanksgiving weekend fair.

Justin Erdman said he was at the annual fall fair on Saturday night from 7:30 p.m. until closing time, and something he saw there surprised him.

"Several vendors had Confederate battle flags in their wares — one in Building 5 featured them prominently at the cash register. Others had them emblazoned on hats and shirts with the word 'Rebel' over top," Erdman said.

"All the fair has to do is issue an order to vendors. Simple. But I haven't heard any response from the fair," he said, referencing tweets he'd directed at the fair's twitter account on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

George Araujo, the fair's general manager, told the CBC on Sunday afternoon that they had not seen Erdman's tweets. Araujo said he was not aware of the Confederate flag merchandise, but said he would investigate and make sure anything violating their regulations is removed.

"We do have regulations against anything offensive," Araujo said, "and we'll have to take a look and see if that qualifies."

Asked if the Confederate flag would qualify as offensive, Araujo said, "It would depend on how it's displayed or how it's being used. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on that."

However, Araujo later informed the CBC that "we did do a look around our grounds, and we did find a couple of articles that we found objectionable that incorporated the Confederate flag design, and we required that the vendors remove them from display for sale." Those items were hats and mini-flags available from two separate vendors.

'Overwhelmingly racist connotations'

The Confederate flag, a symbol from the days of the U.S. Civil War over slavery, continues to stir up controversy. Many people have called for it to be removed from public places because of its relationship with slavery and white supremacy.

Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old man who is alleged to have killed nine African American people worshipping at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June of 2015, proudly displayed the flag. Photos of Roof with the flag were found after the shooting, along with photos of Roof burning the American flag. His trial is set to begin Nov. 7.

"It was so unnecessary," said Erdman. "It's an American symbol, and one that they have taken steps in the past couple years to eliminate from public display because of its overwhelmingly racist connotations."

"This is Canada. And Ontario," Erdman said. He thinks it's especially offensive in the context of "a town like Simcoe that employs workers of all colours at harvest time — literally keeping the economy going."

Controversy about the flag in the Hamilton area is not new — a now-shuttered barbecue restaurant called Hillbilly Heaven in the city's International Village displayed and later removed the flag in 2013.

Gerald Horne, a professor of history at the University of Houston, said at that time that historically Canada has been ardently anti-slavery and nearly became the target of U.S. attacks for it.

"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."

dave.beatty@cbc.ca | @dbeatty