Gabriel Gebril spoke to regional councillors Thursday, opposing a change to the policy regarding flag-flying and changing lighting coloursScreenshot

The Niagara Region is updating its flag-raising and sign-lighting policy despite outcry from members of the public, including Palestinians who live in Niagara. 

During a corporate services committee meeting in March, staff was directed to undertake a review of the current policy and provide suggestions for possible amendments. 

At that time, the region had been asked to display Palestinian colours, as Israel’s were in October following an attack that killed more than 1,000 people and was the start of what would become the Israel-Hamas war. 

Ukrainian colours have also been previously flown publicly by the Region. 

The review of the policy and recommended amendments were approved earlier this month by the corporate services committee, and the minutes from that meeting were up for approval at Thursday night’s regional council meeting. 

Only two members, St. Catharines Regional Coun. Haley Bateman and West Lincoln Regional Coun. Albert Witteveen, voted against those minutes, and were in opposition to the changes. 

The amendments to the policy include removing the option to fly flags from other nations. 

Community flag-raising and lighting requests are only for organizations in the region, says the corporate services report approved on June 12. 

Before councillors voted on Thursday, eight people addressed them and said the proposed changes were unfair. There were also accusations that the regional government was being discriminatory by bringing the recommendations forward. 

“There’s nothing equitable about these amendments,” said Saleh Waziruddin, taking exception that other nations’ flags have been flown within the last few months, but not Palestine’s.

He called this “textbook discrimination,” and said that there are many people in Niagara affected. 

Waziruddin said Niagara is sometimes referred to as the “Las Vegas of the north,” but that there is nothing “north” about council taking this direction. 

“This is taking a page from the deep south,” he said. 

Gabriel Gebril said the decision is more than just a tweak to a policy. He alleges that it means the Region feels “some voices matter.” 

Referring to the previous decision by the Region to display Palestinian colours, Gebril said “people in the Palestinian community in Niagara just wanted to be seen and treated like everyone else.” 

In January, Bateman attempted to get council to send a motion to representatives of the federal government to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, but it was not supported, and ended up being removed from the agenda. 

She was hopeful that council would not move ahead with the policy changes on Thursday night’s agenda. 

“We can show sympathy and gratitude for everybody,” she said, adding that racism is an issue that can be tackled by the regional government.  “It’s manageable and we can do it as a collective.”

Pelham Regional Coun. Diana Huson said it’s regional council’s mandate to advocate for better roads and infrastructure, assist people facing homelessness and poverty, among other things. 

“This is what we’re responsible for,” she said.

“How much time have we spent talking about this?” she asked, before people in the gallery had to be told by chair Jim Bradley to refrain from shouting. “The proper place for this is the federal government,” Huson said. 

Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Coun. Andrea Kaiser supported Bateman’s attempt to get council to consider pushing a ceasefire earlier this year, but she did not support Bateman’s position Thursday night. 

“At this juncture, I appreciate the frustration with the inconsistencies,” she said, referring to concerns that some nations have had flags flown, but Palestine has not. 

But she’s also pleased the updated policy is “clear, consistent, and concise.” 

Asked by St. Catharines Regional Coun. Laura Ip if the new policy prevents the Region from flying flags related to Indigenous communities, planning and development commissioner Michelle Sergi said there are “logistical things” that would need to be sorted out, noting that Indigenous communities are recognized through flags and signage on occasions such as Orange Shirt Day. 

The Region needs to “make sure we are being appropriate” when considering how to recognize First Nations, she said. 

In a news release, the Niagara Palestine Coalition said the Region has ignored requests from more than 100 residents from nine of the 12 Niagara municipalities for signage to be lit in the colours of Palestine, consistent with the original policy, as was done for Israeli colours on Oct. 11, 2023.

By Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 29, 2024 at 20:20

This item reprinted with permission from   Niagara-on-the-lake Local   Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario

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