Mount Forest school gets new flag pole after Pride flag flap

Wellington Heights Secondary School in Mount Forest removed its Pride flag after members of the community expressed outrage that it was on the same pole as the Canadian flag. The school fixed the issue by getting a new pole.

'Wellington Heights is a small school with a huge heart,' principal says

The Pride flag will once again fly outside Wellington Heights Secondary School in Mount Forest, Ont. The flag was taken down in February after complaints by community members who cited flag protocol that says the Canadian flag should not share a pole with another flag. The school board has fixed the problem by putting up a second pole at the school. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

A Mount Forest high school that removed its Pride flag after complaints from the community about the rainbow flag flying sharing a pole with the Canadian flag is fixing the problem by putting up a second pole.

Wellington Heights Secondary School principal Jennifer Meeker said they have been working on getting a second flagpole installed for a while and it's going up soon.

"The Pride flag will be flown at Wellington Heights," Meeker said in an email to CBC News.

"Wellington Heights is a small school with a huge heart and today it has been reinforced that our broader community is supporting us also."  

The high school initially removed the Pride flag in February because some people in the community complained, saying the pride flag cannot share the same pole as the Maple Leaf.

Flag should be on own mast

The Upper Grand District School Board tweeted it is committed to safe, equitable and inclusive schools.

"We are reviewing our flag policy, addressing respect for etiquette and inclusivity," the tweet read.

Justine Lafond, a spokesperson for the Department of Canadian Heritage, said in an email to CBC News there is no law against the Canadian flag sharing a pole with another flag, "however, there is a protocol around these matters, which is based on traditions that honour and demonstrate respect for our flag."

That includes that the flag should always be flown on its own mast.

'No reason for us to change our plan'

This year, all schools with the Waterloo Region District School Board are flying the Pride flag and in most cases, it's on the same pole as the Canadian flag, said the board's chief communications officer Nick Manning.

He said before making the decision to do so, they checked with the flag protocol lead at Heritage Canada.

"She confirmed for us that where schools only have one mast, it is a pragmatic work-around to show our support and inclusion of the rainbow community by flying the Canadian flag first, with the pride flag beneath," he said. "Admittedly this approach would not happen at federal government buildings, but she saw no reason for us to change our plan."

There have been comments from the public about the Pride flags, Manning said including about 47 emails or calls to senior staff. Manning said he'd estimate about 30 of those raised a complaint about protocol, "often alongside opposition to the pride flags more generally, or citing Christian beliefs."

On social media, there were about 20 complaints, but thousands of "overwhelmingly positive" responses.

"Showing our support for rainbow people does not diminish our respect for our nation's flag," Manning said.

"We want to recognize Canadians who are LGBTQ-plus who may be marginalized and let them know that the Canadian flag stands for them, too."

Pride flag remains in prominent location

A statement by Heather Ginzel, the Upper Grand District School Board equity curriculum leader, noted while the Pride flag was taken down from the Mount Forest high school, it was still displayed prominently in the school.

She said the member of the community who complained about the flag said the principal of the school could be charged because it was against the law to have any other flag with the Canadian flag. That was incorrect but staff still grappled with how to follow flag etiquette.

The decision was made to put up a second pole and the board will review its policy about how to display flags.

"Throughout the process, the board has been in absolute support of the LGBTQ initiatives at WHSS and at all schools in the district," Ginzel said in the statement.

"Every person has the right to come to work and school and feel celebrated and welcome. We are proud of the work we are doing around equity and inclusion, and our continued commitment to inclusion for all our stakeholders."

Adults, not students, called for flag removal

Emma Arsenault is a student at Wellington Heights. She came out about a year ago as queer and she said when she moved to the Mount Forest school after attending a Catholic school in Guelph, it was a place she felt like she could be herself.

"When I learned about the Pride flag having to be taken down after adults in Mount Forest called to complain, me and many other LGBT students were devastated. It's not the kids in Mount Forest that don't want to be more inclusive, but the parents and church groups," she wrote in a public Facebook post.

"As a community, we need to reflect on ourselves and think, do queer kids feel safe here? Do they feel they can be themselves? At school it's a resounding yes, but at their homes I'm not so sure."

She told CBC News she's "completely over the moon" about the new pole and the fact the Pride flag will fly again at her school.