No sign of Franco-Ontarian flag flap at Sudbury city hall 10 years later

For 10 years now, the Franco Ontarian flag has flown quietly at Sudbury city hall. But before that, it was a contentious political issue that divided politicians and the public.

Sudbury city council originally said no to flying the flag in 2003

For the past 10 years, the Franco-Ontarian flag has been one of three permanent flags flying at Tom Davies Square in Sudbury, along with the Canadian and Ontario flags. (Erik White/CBC)

For 10 years now, the Franco-Ontarian flag has flown quietly at city hall in Sudbury, Ont. But before that, it was a contentious political issue that divided politicians and the public.

Back in 2003, Stephanie St. Pierre and another Sudbury student noticed that the flag, which was created in Sudbury back in 1975, was missing from the poles at Tom Davies Square.

St. Pierre figured nobody had asked about it before and that getting it put up would easily pass with approval from municipal government.

"We didn't really understand how political it could become," St. Pierre says now.

Greater Sudbury city council said no to the flag in a 7–5 vote, with councillors like Dave Kilgour fearing Finns, Italians and other groups in the city would be insulted.

"I am afraid that by flying a flag that depicts the strength of one of our many cultures against some of the other ones that we have, that we may be putting in a wedge that would cause some animosity," Kilgour told council in 2003.

The city councillor who tabled motion to fly the Franco-Ontarian flag, Dave Courtemanche, would be elected as mayor a few months later, but he never raised the issue during his time in office.

In 2006, Courtemanche was ousted by former MP John Rodriguez. He ordered the flag be raised on his first day as mayor. 
John Rodriguez was criticized for having the Franco-Ontarian flag raised on his first day as mayor in 2006. (CBC)

"Just an administrative oversight, I guess," Rodriguez told CBC at the time "Could have been done at any time, by any mayor."

But Rodriguez was criticized for acting unilaterally without consulting city council and for favouring one ethnic group over others.

However, there's been little sign of flag flap in the decade since.

In the 2014 Sudbury mayor's race, candidate Dan Melanson, who is of French Canadian heritage but doesn't speak French, was questioned about concerns he raised over the Franco-Ontarian flag flying higher than the Canadian flag at some Francophone institutions in the city. 

A 'nice reminder'

In the years since the flag debate in council chambers, St. Pierre said what she believes has changed is that Franco-Ontarians are taking more pride in their identity, and quietly raising the flag at schools, town halls and other public buildings across the province.

"We have a very strong Franco-Ontarian population in our city, therefore we will fly their flag," said St. Pierre, whose hometown of Cochrane started flying the flag shortly after Sudbury did.

Reflecting on the tenth anniversary, St. Pierre said the first thing it does is make her feel old, remembering her student days.

"It's also a nice reminder of the road we've travelled as a community," she said.