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Mayor of Ottawa under fire after anti-abortion flag raised over City Hall

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson struggled to explain how it was allowed to happen.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is struggling to defend a decision to raise the flag of a group that wants to restrict women’s reproductive rights and declare Tuesday, May 11th “Respect for Life Day” in the City of Ottawa.

Before many in the national capital region had yet woken up, a small group of anti-abortion activists gathered at Ottawa City Hall at 5:45 am Tuesday morning to raise a flag marking the National March for Life, an annual event organized by Campaign Life Coalition, a right-wing social conservative group known for extreme rhetoric on abortion and the “gay agenda.”

Anti-abortion activists celebrated the flag raising as a historic event, noting that “for the first time in Canada’s history, the nation’s capital this morning raised a pro-life flag over its City Hall.”

antiabortion-flag.jpg

Following the flag raising, several city councillors signed a joint statement calling for the removal of the flag, expressing outrage that a “flag representing a personal conviction to restrict a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion is flying on the grounds of City Hall for the first time in the City’s history.”

They also pointed out the flag raising violates the City’s existing policies:

“Safe access to abortion is a fundamental and constitutionally-protected right enjoyed by all women in Canada. All citizens of our country are welcome to demonstrate and express their view against that right.

However, the City of Ottawa’s policy on proclamation which led to the flag-raising is clear: ‘a proclamation will not be issued for matters that … represent individual conviction’.” 

Following the release of the statement, Watson tweeted that the City would “review” its policies on proclamations and flag raising:

The flag initially remained raised over City Hall until the mayor finally acknowledged a growing backlash on Twitter.

Despite Watson’s claims that he shares “concerns” about the policy, he’s issued similar proclamations recognizing “the rights” of “the unborn” for the last several years in a row – in 2011, Watson blamed it on an “old policy” too.

And despite Watson’s suggestion that “City staff” were responsible for the mistake, anti-abortion activist Francis Barrett told the right-wing website LifeSiteNews.com his group received “formal permission” to raise the flag after directly corresponding with both the Mayor and City staff:

“So, I sent an e-mail to the Mayor and he replied the very next day and he said: ‘we’ll take it under consideration.’ Now, there’s a lot of ifs and buts and whatnot went in between, but here it is – we did get it up there. And I’m so proud, I’m so proud of the Mayor and the staff that they went along with this … I only got the formal permission last Monday. It was nip and tuck all the way.”

Tuesday’s flag raising controversy comes amid growing criticism aimed at City Hall after Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau declined to enforce city by-laws that would prevent anti-abortion activists from staging protests and harassing patients at the front steps of a downtown Ottawa abortion clinic.

Here’s a snapshot of how people reacted to Ottawa’s anti-abortion flag Tuesday:

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