Toronto city council wants ban on Confederate flag in public spaces

Toronto city council agreed Wednesday to ask staff to advise on the best ways to assess the use of hate symbols - like the Confederate flag - at public events, and how best to have those symbols removed.

Ugly dispute at festival last summer led to councillor's motion

Part of a video taken by Ybia Anderson during a dispute last summer over the Confederate flags displayed on this replica of the General Lee, a car made famous in The Dukes of Hazzard TV show. (Ybia Anderson)

Toronto city council has voted to take a second look at what symbols can and cannot be displayed at public events - with an eye to banning controversial banners like the Confederate battle flag.

Coun. Neethan Shan of Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River introduced a motion that aimed at clarifying what symbols can be displayed during events in parks and other public spaces.

He wanted an outright ban on the Confederate flag, in particular from city-owned spaces and at city-sponsored events.

"I think at some point we have to put our foot down and say what is not acceptable when it comes to symbols of hate," Shan told CBC Toronto on Friday.

His interest was sparked by an incident during last summer's Highland Creek Festival, which is held annually on public lands in the city's Highland Creek Village neighbourhood.

Coun. Neethan Shan has asked city staff to investigate the feasibility of banning the Confederate flag from city-owned spaces and city-sponsored events.

Ybia Anderson was visiting the festival with her three-year-old son when she noticed a replica of the General Lee, the customized Dodge Charger from the U.S. TV program The Dukes of Hazzard.

The vehicle was displaying two Confederate flags — one on its roof and the other on its bumper. Despite her objection, organizers refused to move the car.

In a tape she recorded of the incident, Anderson can be heard demanding that the person in charge of the car remove it, which he refuses to do.

Anderson's dispute over a Confederate flag last summer led to this week's motion by Shan. (Ybia Anderson)

"Let me tell you what I want: I want the car gone. "I want it out of sight. It does not belong here," she says.

"It represents lynching and death of black people... This is racist ... This does not belong here."

On Friday, Anderson told CBC Toronto she's glad Shan is trying to ban displays of the flag in public places.

"I absolutely support it, because I think there's a disconnect happening ... I think people do not understand and define the Confederate flag as a hate symbol, which it is," she said.

Not a free expression issue, Shan says

Shan's motion calls on city staff to look into the feasibility of banning the flag.

He said he doesn't believe a ban could be construed as a violation of a person's right to free expression

"This is not a case of freedom of expression or freedom of speech," he said. "It is a symbol of hate that infringes on the well-being of other people in a place that is public, and a place that is publicly funded, in a place that is publicly maintained or supported by the community."

Two-thirds of councillors must agree to discuss his motion at this council meeting. Otherwise, it will be referred to a city commitee, where it could be killed, or sent back to next month's council meeting for a vote.