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Dos and Don'ts of flying the Canadian flag

There is a right way and a wrong way to fly the Canadian flag. - Paul J. Henderson
There is a right way and a wrong way to fly the Canadian flag.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

The Olympics and a windy day last week got me thinking seriously about flags.

As many of us were ensconced in our quadrennial burst of national pride watching Canadians pull in medal after medal in Sochi, and as the wind whipped through the Fraser Valley, I was at Salish Plaza downtown when I heard a whipping, thwacking sound above.

I looked up to see what looked like a horribly shredded remnant of a Canadian flag twittering desperately in the wind. Intrigued that any business owner would allow such a wreck of a flag to be flown during the Winter Olympics, the same day the Canadian women won gold medals in hockey, my eyes turned skyward to Canadian flags around town.

Back with a camera, I looked through the lens at the offending flag flying prominently downtown only to realize it wasn’t ripped down to its last red stripe, but was merely tangled on the pole, an understandable effect in the heavy winds.

Now, feeling like a flag policeman, or rather vigilante, I went snooping for flag-flying violators.

Superstore? Looking great.

Great Canadian Oil Change? Tons of ‘em at both locations, looking just fine.

Oddly, the massive Canadian flag often seen at the Luckakuck Husky was not flying at all, nor were any flags on poles at Canadian Tire. Maybe it was too windy, which sounds a little like being too hungry to eat . . . but it was really windy and more than one flag around town was tangled into itself.

There are rules about flying the Canadian flag some of which are so nuanced I dare say few Canadians could know them all. I say rules, but they aren’t laws, more like ethical guidelines from Heritage Canada.

“The National Flag of Canada should be displayed only in a manner befitting this important national symbol; it should not be subjected to indignity or displayed in a position inferior to any other flag or ensign,” according to Heritage Canada.

There is nothing illegal about flying a damaged flag or even burning a flag for that matter, but Heritage Canada has a strict list of “shoulds” when it comes to the maple leaf.

A few points many may have not considered: the national flag of Canada should not be used as a table cloth or seat cover; while it is not technically incorrect to use the flag to cover a statue, monument or plaque for an unveiling ceremony, it should be discouraged; nothing should be pinned to or sewn on the flag; and the flag should not be signed or marked in any way.

At city hall, the Canadian flag flies on the middle pole of three, in its correct position above the British Columbia flag, which is to the left and, right now, the Métis flag, which was put up for Louis Riel day and is to the right.

This follows protocol, which says three flags on the same base should have the national flag at the centre, the second-ranking flag to the left and the other to the right.

The Holland Shopping Centre on Young, similarly has three flags flying, the national flag and two flags of the Netherlands. Heritage Canada says when the national flag is flown with that of other sovereign nations they, should be at the same height, but Canada’s should be in the “position of honour,” which is the middle. The Holland Shopping Centre got it right.

Interestingly, in terms of precedence, if the flag of Canada is flown with that of all the provinces and territories, B.C.’s flag should be in the seventh position based on the order of entering Confederation.

Another common practice during the Olympics is people buying plastic flags to affix to cars and trucks. The one car with a flag I spotted had its flag on the left side, which is actually a no-no.

“The flag must be on a pole firmly fixed to the chassis on the front right,” Heritage Canada says about flags on motor vehicles.

So what about a damaged flag? Again, there is no law against it, but Heritage Canada says: “When a flag becomes tattered and is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be destroyed in a dignified way.”

On my day out searching for flags, the red-and-white on the Sutton Downtown Business Centre was in a sorry state of affairs, flapping on its last threads.

I touched base with Kelly Johnston last Friday of Sutton who said he had a new flag ready to go but with the seriously windy weather he couldn’t get it up.

A beautiful, bright red national flag is now up at the building at Young and Princess, so all is flapping as it should.

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