A small town in Alberta is set to have its residents vote next month on a ban of Pride flags and rainbow crosswalks altogether.
The town council of Westlock, Alberta—a town with a population just under 5,000—voted unanimously back in November to hold a plebiscite, meaning town-wide vote, on a proposed “crosswalk and flagpole” bylaw which would ban crosswalks or flags that support “political, social, or religious movements or commercial entities.”
If it passes, the town will be forced to take down its single existing rainbow crosswalk, which was unanimously approved by town council back in June 2023 and painted during the summer. It would be the first such bylaw in Alberta, and make Westlock the first town in the province to ban Pride flags and crosswalks.
And no one’s pretending that this whole ban isn’t actually just about that one crosswalk. Westlock resident Stephanie Bakker spoke out against the crosswalk when it was first approved, launched a door-to-door petition for the bylaw after the crosswalk passed, calling for the ban. She told the CBC in a December interview that it’s important to have “neutrality in the government” for everyone to “get along.”
According to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, a petition must be signed by at least 10 percent of an area’s population to go before council—and Bakker got 700 people to sign. As a result, the petition went before the government in the fall, the bill was drafted and the plebiscite is now set to be held next month.
The council seems largely opposed to the bill. At a Nov. 27 meeting, Councillor Laura Morie called Bakker’s petition “lipstick on bigotry.” And Westlock’s acting mayor, Murtaza Jamaly, said in a news release that the town “will need to choose if removing our community’s rainbow crosswalk sends the right message about who we are.”
What happens if it passes on Feb. 22 and the town votes in favour of the ban? Well, there will be no more Pride flags or rainbow crosswalks in Westlock. But it will also set a dangerous precedent for similar communities in Canada. In the U.S., school districts across the country have introduced similar bans from Wisconsin to California in recent years. And most recently, a state-level prohibition on Pride flags in schools and government buildings was introduced in Florida earlier this month.
While similar motions have yet to emerge in other Canadian towns and cities—though an Ontario Catholic school board passed a prohibition on Pride flags last year—the Westlock vote signals that conservative forces are willing and ready to organize against what might be the most innocuous expressions of queer solidarity.