G.J. Rancourt, organizer of Prayerfest and The March For Jesus, holds an International Christian flag during a press conference outside of City Hall in London, August 23, 2012.
Credits: CRAIG GLOVER/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY
LONDON, ON - Left twisting in the wind after London's city clerk rejected his bid to fly a Christian flag at city hall, a defiant G.J. Rancourt vows to go ahead anyway -- without approval -- even if he has to supply his own pole.
"(Friday) night we're going to raise the international Christian flag here at this community flag pole," he said of the pole at city hall's Reg Cooper Square.
"We can get it up pretty high holding it up on a pole, a stick -- and we can still have our ceremony and still have our flag-raising ceremony," he said at an improptu news conference at city hall Thursday.
The word from city hall's security boss is that's OK -- as long as they don't obstruct anything.
"It's freedom of speech," said Dave O'Brien, in charge of security.
The flag-raising Rancourt wants is to kick off a weekend Prayer Fest and March for Jesus in nearby Victoria Park.
Rancourt has come under public criticism for comments he made last year in a TV interview, suggesting Muslims who practise Sharia law should leave Canada.
It looked like Rancourt had the green light for the flag-raising, but a review of that decision led to the about-face on grounds the banner doesn't satisfy a city policy restricting outside flags flown to those or chartiable or non-profit groups in the city.
The first major flap over the city's flag-flying policy since city council handed off decisions to the city clerk's office four years ago, the issue has touched off public debate in London -- some politicians have also weighed in -- over whether the city should even be flying outside flags and, if so, under what conditions.
Mayor Joe Fontana, who wasn't in office during previous flag-flying dust-ups, couldn't be reached for comment, his office saying he was too busy Thursday.
Rancourt had a message for the politicians -- you haven't heard anything yet.
"If politicians here get upset a little bit with complaints, because they only got a few of them, there's going to be a lot more complaints for the decision that they made. There's going to be a bigger reaction than that," he insisted.
In a letter to Rancourt, city clerk Cathy Saunders said she ultimately denied the request after reviewing the city policy.
She wrote that she also reviewed comments Rancourt made in recent London Free Press articles.
Those reports included details of a TV interview he did last year, critical of Mulsim religious practices.
"Muslims should be allowed the freedom to practise (their religion) fully -- but not in Canada . . . Perhaps a one-way ticket home would be a good idea," he told Omni TV.
The Christian Heritage Party, of which Rancourt is a member, has called for a moratorium on immigrants from Islamic countries that practise Sharia law.
In her letter to Rancourt, Saunders said she had "no evidence or information that this flag is the flag of any specific charitable or non-profit organization in the City of London. The only evidence that you have provided is a letter from an organization approving of the raising of this flag on August 24, 2012."
Rancourt said he wasn't surprised by the final decision, but that he "jumped hurdles" to get churches to write letters telling Saunders they were adopting the flag for the Prayer Fest and March for Jesus -- scheduled Saturday at Victoria Park -- in a last-ditch effort to sway the city clerk.
Saunders said she initially approved a request by Prayer Fest and March for Jesus organizers, because she was told the flag was theirs. She said she'd asked for the flag several times before finally receiving it Aug. 21.
"At the time I said yes, it was based on receiving the flag," she said. "Once we received the flag, we realized that it did not meet policy."
Rancourt charged the city only changed its mind in the face of public criticism of the flag-flying at city hall.
In 2008 city council directed the clerk to decide which flags can be raised, after politicians took heat for approving flags for gay pride, Argentian and the Metis, but denying other groups and delaying the approval for a flag honouring Terry Fox.
At the time, then-mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best backed a staff recommendation to only fly flags from a small list approved by Heritage Canada -- the flags of London, the provinces, Canada, the lieutenant-governors, the governor general, the royal family, the Commonwealth, the United Nations and NATO.