Nova Scotia

Confederate flag should be banned, says Halifax group

This month, an African Nova Scotian woman saw something that made her blood boil. It was a pickup truck adorned with a Confederate Flag.

'The flag is an odious and noxious symbol of racism,' says Isaac Saney

Isaac Saney with the group Nova Scotian Citizens Against White Supremacy says the Confederate flag is now being adopted by racists and white supremacists in Europe where the swastika is banned. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

This month, an African Nova Scotian woman saw something that made her blood boil — it was a pickup truck adorned with a Confederate flag.

Many in this province believe the flag is a symbol of white supremacy and should be banned.

That's why a community group called Nova Scotian Citizens Against White Supremacy will hold a meeting on Wednesday in Halifax at the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. Members of the group say it's not uncommon for people to have the Confederate flag on their licence plate or to have the flag on display in a window.

"It's clear for us that the flag is an odious and noxious symbol of racism. It's not disputable. It's unequivocally a representation of racism, of the denial of people of African descent and their fundamental human rights," said Isaac Saney, who's an historian and an organizer of the meeting.

He says the Confederate flag became popular among racists during the civil rights movement in the U.S.  

Those who felt there was nothing wrong with segregation adopted the flag as their symbol of maintaining the status quo, which Saney describes as, "the reign of terror that existed in the south, denying fundamental voting rights and the fundamental rights of the African American community."

Saney says the Confederate flag is now being adopted by racists and white supremacists in Europe where the swastika is banned.

A lightning rod of controversy

At the Wednesday meeting, group members will discuss racist symbols and demand they be banned.

The Confederate flag has become a lightning rod of controversy in the last few months.

A white supremacist killed nine African Americans in June at an historic church in Charleston, South Carolina. That crime prompted the removal of the Confederate flag from state capital property in South Carolina because many think it's a symbol of racism, stemming back to the American Civil War which was fought over slavery. The Confederates wanted to protect the right of plantation owners to use slaves.

Legally, it's a complex question as to whether a symbol can be banned.

Wayne MacKay is a lawyer who specializes in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law.

Can a symbol be banned?

He says the Charter guarantees free speech, but there are limits on what's reasonable.

"There are a number of limits and that's one of the important elements of our charter is that all the rights have reasonable limits. That's the very first section. And in relation to free speech, one of the limits is hate speech, which is the most relevant here," said MacKay.

"There's a number of limits that come in the form of laws and then if there is a court challenge, the court has to decide whether or not that's a reasonable limit."

Rather than launching a court battle, MacKay thinks another option for members of the group is to contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. He says there's a provision in section seven of the in the provincial Human Rights Act on discriminatory symbols.

If a person sees a Confederate flag on display in public, they can submit a complaint to the Commission and it'll be investigated.

"One of the possible avenues to look at this is to say that displaying the Confederate flag arguably might violate that section of the human rights code if one follows the kind of analysis that Isaac Saney just demonstrated and I think it's a good point is that much of links to the Confederate flag are supporting slavery and are discriminatory in the broad sense," said MacKay.

He says taking this issue to the Human Rights Commission could be a cheaper and quicker way to deal with it.

"Going to court and fighting charter battles is a long and expensive process and you need lawyers and time and money and energy. That's needed as well at the Human Rights Commission, but it's a much more accessible process and one which has many different possible resolutions," said MacKay.

Is the Confederate flag a symbol of racism and hate?

He says in his opinion, the community group has a strong argument that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and hate.

"With the tragic shooting in the United States recently, I think it's increasingly seen as that. It was always that in many ways. A core part of the Confederate cause was maintaining the institution of slavery," said MacKay.

The meeting will happen at noon at the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.

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