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MP's bid to protect flag adds another notch to Harper's patriotic belt

The Peace Tower and a Canadian flag are seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A rookie Conservative MP wants to fine – or even jail – Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf.

John Carmichael, who represents the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, has crafted a truly patriotic private member's bill.

"The Maple Leaf flag we see every Canada Day is testimony to the patriotism and respect Canadians have for this important national symbol," Mr. Carmichael said Wednesday in the foyer of the House of Commons, where he was flanked by Heritage Minister James Moore and a display of flags and Canada pins set up by the government.

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"This proposed law seeks to protect the rights of Canadians to fly their national flag where they live," he said, "and encourage Canadians across the country to display the national flag, not just on Canada Day or Flag Day but every day of the year."

This proposed bill adds to Stephen Harper's efforts at re-branding Canada and its symbols, creating more public expressions of pride in the country and presenting history through a conservative lens.

For example, Mr. Moore's department is poised to launch new funding for commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which the Conservatives are billing as a defining moment in the creation of Canada as a country.

In addition, Defence Minister Peter MacKay has restored the traditional "Royal" designation to the air force and navy. And Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has ordered all of Canada's missions and embassies abroad to put a portrait of the Queen on prominent display.

Mr. Carmichael's bill, meanwhile, would prohibit "any person to prevent the displaying of the National Flag of Canada provided that (a) the flag is displayed in a manner befitting this national symbol; (b) the display is not for an improper purpose or use; (c) the flag is not subjected to desecration."

As for enforcement, the rookie Tory MP proposes that anyone who contravenes the act be subject to a temporary restraining order or an interlocutory injunction. His bill goes on to say that anyone who disregards an injunction or restraining order could be punished by "a fine in the discretion of the court or by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years."

Mr. Carmichael is a well-know businessman in Toronto, running a successful car dealership. He is a father of three adult children and a grandfather of three.

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It is not clear how he came up with this bill and what his motivation for it is. However, a two-year-old column in the Ottawa Sun tells the story of a dispute at an apartment building over the flying of small Canadian flags from several balconies.

Mr. Moore said the proposed law is very important because several Canadians have been surprised to learn that they did not always have the right to display the flag.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said he saw nothing wrong with principle behind the bill. But he said the Conservatives appear to be obsessed with symbols and the bill was "changing the channel" at a time the world economy is in a precarious state.

"These guys are talking about flags and symbols and who knows what," Mr. Rae said. "Get your perspective, we've got 1.4 millions unemployed, we've got young people who've never had a job, we've got basic challenges facing our economy and you've got a government which is systematically trotting out these things."

But Mr. Moore said the government's top priority is still the economy and the flag issue does not detract from that. He urged the opposition to support Mr. Carmichael's private member's bill.

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About the Authors
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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