NEWS
05/12/2017 04:44 EDT | Updated 05/15/2017 05:05 EDT

Anti-abortion flag causes stir in Ottawa after being raised at city hall

OTTAWA — A flag honouring an anti-abortion movement caused a stir in the country's capital after it was raised at Ottawa City Hall.

The city proclaimed Thursday "March for Life Day," a declaration that has been made in past years, but city councillors said the anti-abortion movement's flag was flown at city hall as part of that proclamation for the first time.

Seven city councillors called for the flag to immediately be taken down, saying in a joint letter that the flag represents a "personal conviction to restrict a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion."

They said city policy on flag raisings state "a proclamation will not be issued for matters that ... represent individual conviction."

The councillors also said the right to abortion is constitutionally protected. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the country's law criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional, though it remains on the books. The federal government recently announced legislation to remove it from the Criminal Code.

A security guard took down the "March for Life" flag on Thursday afternoon and replaced it with the City of Ottawa flag.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson sent a letter to city clerk Rick O'Connor on Thursday asking for an "immediate and comprehensive" review of Ottawa's proclamations and flag raising policies, and called for recommendations on any changes to those policies within a month.

"Mayor Watson supports women's right to choose and shares the concerns that many Ottawa residents have expressed today," Watson's spokeswoman, Livia Belcea, said in an email.

Sheila Malcolmson, New Democratic Party critic for the status of women, said it's good the flag was taken down.

"It's breathtaking, actually, that in the country's capital that a flag that denounces women's rights, in effect, ever went up in the first place," Malcolmson said.

"It's an attack on women's rights, and that is not something that should ever be celebrated by any council."