Flag flap in Almonte as mayor, residents at odds over Humboldt tribute request

Some Mississippi Mills residents are upset after they were told the flag outside a local arena couldn't be lowered in memory of the victims of a fatal Saskatchewan bus crash because it didn't meet the municipality's half-masting policy.

Residents wanted flag lowered in honour of Humboldt Broncos

Hockey sticks are propped up against the flagpole outside the Almonte Community Centre and Curling Rink — where the flag also sits at half-mast — on April 14, 2018. The mayor and some residents have been squabbling over whether lowering the flag is in line with official policy. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Some Mississippi Mills residents are upset after they were told the flag outside a local arena couldn't be lowered in memory of the victims of a fatal Saskatchewan bus crash because it didn't meet the municipality's half-masting policy.

Angie Dewey emailed the mayor's office on Wednesday, requesting the flag outside the Almonte Community Centre and Curling Rink be lowered in honour of the 16 people who died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6.

She received an email back from Mayor Shaun McLaughlin's office the next day, stating that flag lowering is intended for "sad events within our community" and "doesn't include incidents like the Humbolt [sic] tragedy."

Almonte resident Angie Dewey says she emailed the mayor's office to request the flag outside the town's arena be lowered in memory of the Humboldt Broncos. She then received a response saying the request was not in line with the town's half-masting policy. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

"I didn't feel like [the city was] tailoring their comments to this event, and I felt like they needed to be human and kind of think beyond a piece of paper and lower the flag," said Dewey.

Dewey said she was also disappointed the name of the Saskatchewan town was spelled incorrectly — a possible sign the request wasn't being taken seriously. She shared the email on on social media on Thursday, and soon afterwards it was shared by the Pakenham Ramsay & Almonte Taxpayers' Advocacy Coalition (PRATAC) on the group's website.

By Friday morning, the flag was at half-mast, but it was raised again by noon — before being lowered again sometime that afternoon.

Since the flagpole is easily accessible, anyone could have lowered or raised it, said Dewey.

Mayor addresses controversy in blog post

McLaughlin addressed the social media outcry on Friday in a blog post, accusing PRATAC of blowing the situation out of proportion and making the tragedy political.

Mississippi Mills Mayor Shaun McLaughlin raised some eyebrows after his blog post declared a resident's message about the flag 'another blatant partisan communication from this group of perennial complainers.'

"The next day my answer to that one-to-one communication ended up on the RATPAC website, where one of their pack shifted into hyperbole-overdrive with statements like 'residents are not only embarrassed but outraged.' The message is another blatant partisan communication from this group of perennial complainers," the post reads.

"The last sentence of the screed shows this is a political message, not a humanitarian one: 'The next election cannot come soon enough!'"

The post also notes residents didn't request any of the town's flags be lowered after other national tragedies, including last year's Quebec City mosque shooting.

Dewey said she understood some points in the mayor's post — including the mosque shooting comment — but felt others were inappropriate, including his apparent belief her request was either political or done on behalf of PRATAC.

'Immature, un-businesslike, unprofessional'

"I'm a citizen and I just wanted to see our community represented along with the rest of Canada in showing our thoughts are with Humboldt," she said. 

"This issue is something that has affected many Canadians. It's affected [people] worldwide. But [the mayor's] reaction and name calling was immature, un-businesslike, unprofessional."

Almonte resident and PRATAC member Jan Maydan said the tragedy hit home, since she grew up in Manitoba and many of her family members played in western Canadian hockey leagues.

Who does it hurt? It doesn't hurt anyone.- Almonte resident Jan Maydan

She said she felt the mayor was denigrating the group by calling them "RATPAC" and was equally disappointed with the mayor's response to the flag request.

"Who does it hurt? It doesn't hurt anyone," Maydan said, adding that Almonte is a big hockey community and the arena is where the Almonte Thunder​ play.

When reached by phone, McLaughlin declined to immediately comment, but said there is an official policy about when the community can lower the flag and that exceptions are not usually made.

McLaughlin later said Sunday that the town last lowered their flags in March 2017, after the death of a former deputy reeve.

He also said none of the other eight lower-tier municipalities in Lanark County lowered their flags to pay tribute to the crash victims. 

Almonte resident and PRATAC member Jan Maydan stands near the flag pole outside the town's arena. She says she doesn't understand why Mississippi Mills Mayor Shaun McLaughlin appeared to make the flag lowering political. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Flag remains half-masted

As of Saturday afternoon, the flagpole had two hockey sticks propped up against it, similar to what people across Canada have been doing by placing them outside their front doors as a tribute to the crash victims. 

The flag was still at half-mast Saturday afternoon.

While Dewey said she's happy the flag has been lowered, she's still concerned by the mayor's reaction to the situation.

"It took nothing to lower [the flag]," she said. "It took more to resist lowering it at the arena than just to lower it and appease people."