After 12 years in Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers have lowered Canada’s flag for the final time, marking an end to a long mission.
New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan are paying tribute by lowering Canadian flags to half-mast in some of their schools, capitals and public buildings.
“We need to honour our soldiers and their families on this mission’s final day,” Alberta Premier Alison Redford told Sun News Network.
But it’s not happening so far here at City Hall or Queen’s Park, which changed rules to proudly fly the rainbow flag to support gay rights while the Winter Olympics were staged in Sochi, Russia.
“There is currently no request before the legislature to lower the Canadian flag (Wednesday). In order to do so, all three parties would have to put in a request to the Speaker’s office,” explained Kelly Baker, of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office.
“Ontario recognizes the many Ontario soldiers who served in Afghanistan and honours those who gave their lives,” she said Tuesday.
It’s just not a matter of lowing flags in Ontario to recognize our troops. Ontario was the landing place for the bodies of 158 fallen Canadian troops, who were taken to Toronto along the Highway of Heroes after they landed at CFB Trenton.
At Queen’s Park Tuesday, the Ukrainian flag was flying. But it seems lowering the Canadian flag to honour the sacrifice so many families made has not been discussed.
“The Ukrainian flag is now up as all three parties agreed,” added Wynne’s press secretary, Zita Astravas.
It seems no one’s thoughts turned to Afghanistan — including those at City Hall.
“I have checked in on this and there are no plans at present,” said city spokesman Wynna Brown.
Toronto also flew a rainbow flag during the Sochi Olympics — a move which upset Mayor Rob Ford. He argued the sporting spectacle was about the athletes — not people’s sexual preference — and put up a Canadian flag in his office window.
When the Afghanistan oversight was brought to his attention, Toronto’s controversial mayor jumped into action.
Out of respect for the end of the Canadian mission, said Ford, the flags at Queen’s Park and City Hall should be at half-mast Wednesday.
“It should be, no question,” he said.
The mayor penned a letter to Wynne and to Barbara Sullivan, Toronto’s protocol services director.
“It has recently come to my attention that while both Alberta and New Brunswick have decided that they will be lowering the Canadian flag to recognize the contributions made by the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan, Ontario has not yet made any formal decision to do the same,” Ford wrote Wynne. “Nearly 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan on this mission, and sadly, 158 of them made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”
Ford asked the premier if she could “provide clarity to this matter as quickly as possible” and “see it appropriate to salute our fallen soldiers by respectfully lowering the Canadian flag at Queen’s Park, and hope that you and the other party leaders will make a formal request to the Speaker’s office to do so as soon as possible.”
To Sullivan, Ford wrote: “I would like to lower the Canadian flag at Toronto City Hall” and “can you kindly confirm that this can be done, or advise on the process to make it happen as promptly as possible?”
The mayor was not critical of the premier or anybody in Toronto but said the “oversight” can be easily fixed.
Sun Media journalist Pete Fisher — the author of the book Highway of Heroes and who attended 150 repatriations — said it’s unacceptable that Ontario’s provincial politicians and their municipal counterparts at Toronto City Hall forgot to mark the end of Canada’s mission.
“It’s totally disrespectful not only to the fallen and their families but all men and women who have worn the uniform,” he said. “Ontario was the home province to honour our fallen as they came home. To have other provinces lower flags out of respect, but not have Ontario, is a disgrace.”
Pete feels not just Toronto but “all cities and towns” should lower their flags Wednesday.
There’s still time to do get this right.
For the brave, selfless sacrifice of our Canadian soldiers, we should provide a solemn thank you. Lower our flags to half-mast.