Court rebukes City of Prince Albert over its refusal to permit a pro-life flag on guest flagpole

The Justice Centre is pleased with the decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, which has rebuked the City of Prince Albert for its decision to refuse the application of a pro-life charitable organization to fly its promotional flag on the City’s courtesy flagpole.

PARLA is a non-profit organization, comprised of Prince Albert and area residents, which seeks to promote the sanctity of life through prayer, education, and community work.  PARLA’s work includes hosting Pro-Life events such as “Celebrate Life Week” and “Life Chain”, as well as other activities, such as providing aid to women and families with unplanned pregnancies.

The City of Prince Albert has maintained a courtesy flag pole in Memorial Square at City Hall and has permitted groups or organizations to fly their flags “to help increase public awareness of their programs and activities.”  The City regularly grants applications to use the courtesy flagpole and issues proclamations in support of various causes, including Falun Dafa, hunger awareness, naturopathic medicine, national public works, paramedics services, motorcycle awareness, occupational health and safety, LGBT Pride, gender diversity, transgenderism, literacy, seniors and Saskatchewan Ukrainians.

PARLA has been permitted to raise a flag on the City’s courtesy flagpole for “Celebrate Life Week” for the past 20 years.  Since 2007, PARLA has flown the same pink and white flag with a logo of “Umbert the Unborn”, a cartoon fetus. The phrases “Celebrate Life Week” and “Please Let Me Live” also appear on the flag.

On or about April 6, 2017, PARLA applied to fly their Celebrate Life Week flag to coincide with Celebrate Life Week, running from May 8-14, 2017.  However, on May 4, 2017, PARLA was informed by City of Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne that their flag could not be raised as it was not a “national flag” or “nationally recognized flag”.  The Mayor stated that Celebrate Life Week would still be proclaimed.   Despite PARLA’s requests, the Mayor failed to cite any policy provision or basis for this requirement.

Rather, the next day, the City publicly announced in the media that PARLA’s flag would never again fly on the flagpole.

The Mayor’s decision to not permit PARLA to raise their flag follows formal complaints made in March 2017 about PARLA’s flag and the proclamation of Celebrate Life Week by two individuals who presented their concerns to the Prince Albert Executive Council. Council had referred the matter to Mayor Dionne.

PARLA sought judicial review of the City’s decision to deny PARLA’s application to raise their flag, and a declaration that the decision to prohibit PARLA’s flag is null for violating section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court of Queen’s Bench heard this case on September 25, 2018 and reserved its decision at the time.

Prior to this hearing, the Mayor brought forward a motion to amend the Policy by ending the practice of allowing access to a Courtesy flagpole. The motion passed, meaning that even if successful in its court application, PARLA would not be able to fly its flag on the City’s flagpole.

In its decision, the Court rebukes the City for its “mishandling of the application tendered by PARLA,” noting that “It is evident that the City did not follow its own Policy or proceed in a procedurally fair manner.” The Court concludes that it is unable to apply “any reasonable analysis [of the City’s decision], because of the lack of intelligible or transparent reasons.”

The Court dismissed the application and ordered $6,000 in costs against the City.

The Court’s decision appropriately rebukes the City for treating free speech unfairly.