Saskatchewan

Mental health group condemns Confederate flag on Dukes of Hazzard-themed charity car

The Canadian Mental Health Association says a car that will be used in a charity fundraiser this weekend in Parkside, Sask., is covered in a symbol of hate.

Parkside Community Association member says volunteers had only good intentions

The Dukes of Hazzard-themed General Lee features a Confederate flag on the roof. (Parkside Demolition Derby/Facebook)

When Premier Scott Moe tweeted pictures of a car that will be part of a charity auction, the head of the group that will be receiving the proceeds saw a hate symbol that she immediately wanted to condemn.

The Dukes of Hazzard replica car has a Confederate flag painted on its roof, the words "General Lee" right beside it and, on the trunk, the words "Canadian Mental Health Saskatchewan."

On the weekend, the car will be auctioned off to the highest bidder and driven in the annual demolition derby that draws upwards of 3,000 people to Parkside, a small village located about 125 kilometres north of Saskatoon. 

Phyllis O'Connor, the executive director of the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said she hadn't known about the fundraiser or that the village had chosen to donate to her group this year.

She quickly recognized the paint scheme on top of the car as one that is now considered a hate symbol.

"The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. It's the oppression of black people throughout history. It's a symbol of everything that was wrong back then," O'Connor said.

The executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Saskatchewan branch said she was "shocked" when she saw the paint scheme for a charity car. (Submitted by Jeff Ledding)

Member says no racism intended

Kerry Peterson, a member of the Parkside Community Association, sees something very different when he looks at the car.

He said he knows that young members of the association put hundreds of hours into fixing up and painting the car, trying to make it as authentic to the General Lee, the original car from the television show that aired from 1979 to 1985. 

"I know the Confederate flag has a lot of issues but…. these kids, when they painted this car, didn't have a racist thought. I can promise you that," he said.

Instead, he said he believed these younger members were inspired by the show and the main characters' antics aboard their car.

"I think it's with nothing but the best of intentions."

To single out a flag on top of a car that was painted a week ago, in my mind, is ridiculous.- Kerry Peterson, member of Parkside Community Association

The Parkside Demolition Derby's Facebook page reflects Peterson's sentiments, with many commending the paint job and work put into the car.

Moe's share of the car pictures on Twitter generated mixed response, with several calling on the premier to recognize the negative connotations that come with the Confederate flag.

In an emailed statement, Moe highlighted Parkside volunteers' work on the event.

"I shared these photos to support the Parkside Community Club's longstanding effort to raise funds for local organizations, charities and families as well as to support the work of the Canadian Mental Health Association -Saskatchewan Division.

"In doing so, it was certainly not my intention to offend anyone or to endorse the Confederate flag and what it symbolizes," the statement read.

'No malicious intent,' says CMHA 

Last year, the Parkside created a car modelled after Lightning McQueen from the movie Cars. That auction item fetched nearly $6,000 for the STARS Air Ambulance, Peterson said.

He questioned whether the people complaining about this year's General Lee car volunteer as much time as his fellow community members have.

"To single out a flag on top of a car that was painted a week ago, in my mind, is ridiculous," he said.

In a video on the CMHA's regional Facebook page, the group acknowledged it had retweeted Moe's tweet but within a day, it became aware of the imagery contained in it.

O'Connor said she acknowledges the Parkside group is well-meaning, but if she had known about the project and its paint scheme, she wouldn't have wanted the CMHA's name associated with it and could have advised of the racist connotations and possible solutions.

With only four days before the demo derby, O'Connor said she doesn't see the possibility of repainting the car. The association will still accept the donation, because there was no "malicious intent," O'Connor said.

"The work that we do is going to put that money towards battling exactly what that flag stands for. We do a lot of advocacy work and education work around inclusion, human rights, this type of thing."

About the Author

Chelsea Laskowski is a web writer with CBC Saskatoon.