TORONTO — A re-elected Liberal government would leave flags on federal buildings at half-mast until prompted by Indigenous communities, party leader Justin Trudeau said at a campaign stop on Friday, while Conservative leader Erin O’Toole doubled down on his pledge to raise the flags, saying he would do so as a sign of commitment to reconciliation.
“I plan to keep those flags at half-mast until it is clear that Indigenous peoples are happy to raise them again,” Trudeau told reporters at a campaign stop in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday.
The Department of Canadian Heritage requested in late May that flags at federal buildings and establishments, including the Peace Tower, be lowered after ground-penetrating radar discovered what are believed to be the remains of more than 200 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
O’Toole said in late August that he believes it is time for the flags be raised, and he reiterated that point in Thursday’s English-language leaders’ debate, saying he would raise the flags on the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30. The federal statutory holiday was created to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Mississauga, Ont. on Friday, O’Toole said Sept. 30 would be a day for the country to recommit to reconciliation.
“We will then raise our flag as a sign of that commitment of building a strong and better Canada in the future,” he said. “I’ve said I’m very proud of our country despite the scars from our past. As prime minister, reconciliation will be core to our government.”
Asked what he would do if Indigenous leaders objected to raising the flags, O’Toole did not answer the question.
Decisions about half-masting the Canadian flag are governed by rules and tradition. Typically, it is done following a national tragedy, on certain days, such as Remembrance Day, or after the death of a sovereign or current or former senior elected official. However, there also is a provision for the prime minister to order the half-masting of flags on the Peace Tower and federal establishments in “exceptional circumstances.”
“I think Canadians have seen with horror those unmarked graves across the country and realize that what happened decades ago isn’t part of our history, it is an irrefutable part of our present,” Trudeau said on Friday.
“So when we decided to bring down those (flags) to half-mast, we made the commitment that we would not raise them again until we have worked enough with Indigenous communities and leadership to make a clear determination that it was time to raise them again,” he said.