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Alberta town to put proposed bylaw banning symbols such as Pride crosswalks, flags to plebiscite

A crosswalk in Westlock, Alta., that was painted in Pride colours in June 2023 in an event attended by hundreds of people. (Credit: George Blais/Westlock Town and Country Today) A crosswalk in Westlock, Alta., that was painted in Pride colours in June 2023 in an event attended by hundreds of people. (Credit: George Blais/Westlock Town and Country Today)
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A group in Westlock, Alta., is trying to ban crosswalks painted in rainbow colours and other symbols.

After a crosswalk in the town 72 kilometres northwest of Edmonton was painted in the colours celebrating the LGBTQ2S+ community earlier this year, council in September received a petition asking for a bylaw restricting Westlock to flying just municipal, provincial and federal flags — and to limit all crosswalks to a white-laddered pattern.

The June crosswalk-painting event spearheaded by the gay-straight alliance at R.F. Staples Secondary School was approved by town council the month before.

"We thought it was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate we are an inclusive and welcoming community," Deputy Mayor Murtaza Jamaly told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday. "Council unanimously decided to donate a crosswalk for them to paint."

He said hundreds attended the event June 27, "a great demonstration of what I think our community really represents, which is this huge sense of tolerance and respect."

Town council on Monday put the decision on the petition for a new bylaw to a plebiscite — a direct vote by all people eligible to vote in the town — at the end of February.

Jamaly said that on Monday at town council, "there was a consensus around the table that we didn't feel that this bylaw was representative of our community."

"There wasn't a way that we could find ourselves passing that at council's table," he said of the bylaw petition, which was signed by more than 10 per cent of Westlock's population of 4,921. "Therefore under the legislative process, it goes to a plebiscite vote."

Jamaly said he believes the petition represents a small group of people and that council "cannot in good conscience support a bylaw that is wilfully inequitable, and that's exactly what's proposed in this crosswalk-and-flagpole bylaw," which would require the removal of the rainbow crosswalk.

"We just don't feel like it's representative of our community," Jamaly told CTV News Edmonton. "This bylaw specifically seems to target minority groups in our community under the guise of neutrality. We believe in equitable governance over neutral governance. It's the reason we require handicap-access parking stalls near buildings and clear snow at seniors' facilities first.

"We give additional support to those who need it. Equity is also the reason we may choose to fly Treaty 6, Métis or Pride flags. We need to show support to minority groups in the community that need to be propped up, need to be defended, and we need to demonstrate time and time again through good governance and leadership that ... what is equal isn't always fair, and what is fair isn't always equal."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Evan Kenny

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