Residents of Alberta Town Vote to Keep Public Spaces Neutral, Remove Rainbow Flags, Crosswalks

Residents of Alberta Town Vote to Keep Public Spaces Neutral, Remove Rainbow Flags, Crosswalks
People walk past a Pride flag crosswalk in Calgary on Aug. 18, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Dave Chidley)
Andrew Chen

Residents of a small town north of Edmonton have voted by a narrow margin to support a neutrality bylaw banning rainbow crosswalks and flags on municipal property.

Hundreds of residents in Westlock participated in the Feb. 22 plebiscite, voting 663 to 639 in favour of the crosswalk and flagpole bylaw—a difference of 24 votes.
The new bylaw mandates the removal of an existing rainbow crosswalk located between the town hall and the Westlock Legion. All crosswalks within the municipality will now adopt the standard white-striped ladder pattern. The bylaw will also limit flags flown on township property to those representing the three levels of government.
Westlock’s town council was compelled to address the issue when a civic group, the Westlock Neutrality Team, presented a petition with more than 700 signatures, advocating for the bylaw. Council decided during its Nov. 27, 2023 meeting to bring the matter to a plebiscite.
“Thank you, Westlock! You came out to vote on Feb. 22 and sent a clear message to our mayor and council with a successful YES result,” Westlock Neutrality Team leader Stephanie Bakker said in a Feb. 23 statement. “Thank you to every citizen of Westlock that came out and exercised their democratic right to vote.”

Ms. Bakker highlighted that the vote for the bylaw is not intended to target the LGBT community. “Those who voted for neutrality did so with a genuine desire to keep our community whole and inclusive,” she stated.

Westlock Mayor Jon Kramer stated in a press release on Feb. 22 that the town council did not endorse the proposed bylaw, saying that it “went against our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.”

“This plebiscite is binding, and as such, the bylaw does restrict how we are able to show this commitment. However, we will continue to find ways to embrace those in our community who need a helping hand, including marginalized groups,” he wrote.

Westlock is not the only community in Canada that has advocated for bylaws addressing municipal crosswalk or flag-flying neutrality.

The Ontario municipality of Lakeshore also revised its policy last December to limit the display of flags to those representing the federal, provincial, and municipal governments.
Chandra Philip contributed to this report