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Photo by Jason Herring

U of C prof raises questions over school’s flag-lowering policy

By Jason Herring, May 4 2018 —

A University of Calgary faculty member wants to start a conversation about the usage of the Canadian flag flown on campus.

The national flag of Canada is usually flown on a pole outside the MacKimmie complex, but is currently flown outside the Rozsa Centre during renovations to Swann Mall. The school lowers the flag to half-mast in the case of the death of politicians representing the U of C, during periods of national mourning, on Remembrance Day and in the case of the death of a person closely connected to the university. The last category includes people like university employees, students and board members.

U of C professor Dave Pattison thinks that the school shouldn’t lower the Canadian flag to commemorate university-specific events. Instead, he believes the school should fly a U of C flag to lower in those circumstances.

“The national flag of Canada is the national flag. It flies in the university, but it’s not a university flag, it’s a national flag,” Pattison said. “The flag represents profoundly emotional, meaningful national characteristics — strife, competition. This is not something to be trifled with.”

The lowering of the flag is dictated by a university policy last revised in 2006 titled “Policy on Hast-Masting the Canadian Flag.” According to the policy, it is “meant to express a sense of loss that is shared by the University community.” The U of C president’s office can also opt to lower the flag at their discretion in “extraordinary circumstances.”

Pattison has been contacting the U of C since 2013 regarding its half-masting policy. He said he’s heard relatively little in response to his inquiries, but has been told that a review of the policy is low on the school’s priority list.

He also stressed that he believes the policy is “well-meaning but misguided.”

“The hast-masting policy is motivated by compassion, by consideration, by respect, by acknowledgment of the value of the contributions of people from the university or of tragic deaths of students,” he said. “I don’t question in any way the well-meaning motivation for this. There are enough unhappy things happening in the world today that we need more compassion. I don’t want there to be any thought that I am an unmerited critic of what is a well-meaning gesture.”

University-related lowerings of the flag are documented on the U of C’s website. Other lowerings of the flag are noted in individual articles on the U of C’s UToday website but the school does not maintain a running list of these instances.

According to the U of C’s site, the on-campus Canadian flag has been lowered an average of 19 times a year since 2011. Pattison argues that this frequency lowers the symbolic value of the national flag.

“You do it that many times and the significance gets completely diminished,” he said. “The lowering of the national flag, at least in my experience and for many people, is lowered only for the most profoundly important events of national importance, not just because someone in the university community died.”

Pattison also expressed concerns about inconsistency with the lowering of the flag — specifically, that the flag was lowered in response to the April 23 terror attack in Toronto but not in response to the April 6 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

The University of Alberta flies a national, provincial and campus flag atop its administration building. The school lowers the U of A flag in cases of university-local deaths and additionally lowers the other two flags in response to federal or provincial events. The University of British Columbia follows a similar procedure, but houses its national flag apart from its provincial and campus flags.

The U of C released a short statement to the Gauntlet regarding their half-masting policy.

“The current policy for half-masting of the flag at the university was last reviewed in 2006. We recognize that the half-masting policy may be in need of review. During this review process we will look at a number of areas including specific criteria in the case of exceptional events as well as potentially including additional flags to commemorate campus specific events,” the statement read. “Feedback and suggestions have been noted and will be considered thoughtfully when the half-masting policy is reviewed.”

Pattison wants to hear thoughts from members of the campus community regarding the flagpole. He plans to compile the comments and send them, unedited and anonymized, to the U of C. His email is pattison@ucalgary.ca.

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