the confederate flag

Why aren't Confederate flags banned in Canada?

There's no symbol of blatant racism quite like the Confederate flag, which was the official national flag of the Confederate States of America during its existence before the end of the Civil War

In other words, the flag represents a willingness to uphold the oppression of Black people and the racial injustices they've faced for generations. 

Sure, many will argue that the flag can mean a whole host of things, such as rural pride, southern culture or even generic rebellion, but Black people witnessing a display of the red, white and blue flag will understandably interpret it in the same way: racist.

And yet, it continues to be displayed across the U.S. in cities, schools, by organizations, individuals and more. 

But those who still think anti-Black racism is only a problem south of the border may be surprised to know that the flag is sometimes displayed in Canada, too, and the law actually allows for it.

Back in 2017, for instance, a man in Hamilton, Ont. was fired from his job after flying a Confederate flag from his truck on a construction site.

"I just wanted to do it for shits and giggles—and if I piss a few people off along the way, then so be it," he told a reporter at the time.

So why isn't the Confederate flag banned in Canada, you may ask? 

The answer isn't simple, but it's one many have been asking in recent weeks in light of ongoing protest and outrage about the systemic racism that persists in our society to this very day.

For one thing, it's important to note that symbols themselves are not banned in Canada. This means that other offensive symbols, including the swastika or Nazi flag, are likewise not banned here as there is no specific legislation that prohibits purchasing, owning or displaying either of these derogatory images. 

Thankfully, Canada does partially legislate how these symbols can be used. 

According to sections 318–319 of the Criminal Code, the use of these symbols becomes illegal if they're used to incite any kind of hatred or violence against any identifiable group, or to promote genocide. 

So if someone were to spray paint a Confederate flag on a Black-owned business, for instance, that could be considered a hate crime and be punishable by law. 

But besides the fact that prosecuting someone for a hate crime is known to be notoriously difficult, Canada also has strong freedom of speech laws that make prohibiting a symbol complicated. 

According to an academic article titled Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression: Legal Boundaries in Canada: "freedom of speech is also declared to be a human right and fundamental freedom in the Canadian Bill of Rights. This federal law sets out various rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Passed in 1960, it remains in force. Though it does not form part of Canada's Constitution, it has been described by the Supreme Court as quasi‑constitutional, and therefore other laws must be interpreted in ways that are consistent with it."

But despite this, many are nonetheless calling on different levels of government to take action against the use of the flag.

Several petitions have been started in recent days asking municipal governments to develop bylaws that ban the use of the flag, such as one in Edmonton, Alta., and another in Collingwood, OntOne group in Nova Scotia even held a rally demanding the federal government ban the symbol nationwide. 

And other ideas which were once seen as radical are now making their way into the mainstream and becoming a reality, such as defunding the police

The Confederate flag was even recently banned from NASCAR races — where it was once a common and unsurprising sight.

So while it remains to be seen whether Canada will ever consider banning the derogatory symbol, it's clear that many residents are simply sick and tired of repeatedly seeing the racist flag on Canadian turf. 

Lead photo by

edward stojakovic

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