by Ken Charron

With regret, I don’t read the local news as much anymore.

It’s been drowned out by concerns from international news. However, today a local story made the front page of the CBC website — where It easily stood out, something about a flag and the Mayor of Almonte. In reading the CBC article, I was appalled at what I found: a bitter dispute over an internal policy of the town and a local group called PRATAC. I clicked on the story from the front page of CBC.

In the CBC article, PRATAC members cried foul on the response from the Mayor stating their request (to lower a flag) did not qualify for a response to something that happened outside the Almonte community. Reading further, it’s noted that a member of PRATAC (from Manitoba) felt a personal loss from the Humboldt Broncos accident because as a child she lived in the province next to where the accident occurred — and from what I read, had brothers who also played hockey (the article didn’t elaborate on any other personal connection).

Near the end of the CBC article I learned the arena flag was in a lowered position as of Saturday afternoon (after what appears to be a series of flag adjustments by unknown individuals).

From this point I would like to share some insight from the perspective of someone in the communications industry. But first, please read the CBC article. To those in my field, the message from this one CBC article couldn’t be more clear, and I would like to share just what this CBC article says about Almonte — to all of Canada no less.

First, I should clarify that I wasn’t aware the flag at the arena was an instrument of official communication. One might have expected the flag at the town hall carried that duty. That aside, I asked myself what might have concluded if I saw either flag in a lowered position (clearly not knowing anything of the controversy until today). My immediate thought would be that Almonte has lost someone key in our community — such as when my neighbour and friend (Bernard Cameron) was killed. To be clear, the Humboldt Broncos bus crash would not have been a connection I would have made — not even close. Yes, without question, that accident was tragic for sure, and it touches everyone who reads about the tragedy — but I honestly would not expect anyone who would have seen a lowered flag at the arena as a message of solidarity for the town of Humboldt (100km east of Edmonton). After all, what’s a half-mast flag normally used for in Almonte?

Second, the response to the Mayor upon revealing the internal policy did not align with the PRATAC request — was surprising to say the least. To many, the request was a long-shot in the extreme — given I’ve not seen the flag lowered for many of the tragedies across Canada that I can think of. To be clear I know of no tragedy in my hometown (600+km from here) where I would feel Almonte should have lowered a flag on my behalf. Why? Because I wouldn’t expect people to see the connection, nor would I feel upset if I was told my request would not qualify with the purpose of the internal town policy. It’s not my expectation — not in the least.

But for this CBC article to land on the front page… clearly, there’s more going on here than an unlikely request not fitting an internal policy. The answer to this became crystal clear when I read the following line:

“By Friday morning, the flag was at half-mast, but it was raised again by noon — before being lowered again sometime that afternoon.”

It appears some could not accept the incompatibility of an internal town policy, as unknown individuals took it upon themselves to make a clear political message through an act of defiance — in front of the entire nation of Canada: by lowering the flag after they were told no. Let me explain just what message was said in performing this act of defiance.

First: Without the official endorsement of the town of Almonte, no official message would be posted on the Mississippi Mills website. Thus, nothing official would reach the people of Humboldt.

Second: Given the discontinuity between Humboldt and Almonte (clearly no affiliation), the lowered flag will be puzzling to local residents (I know it would be for me) and thus have no clear meaning (Is the flag stuck? Did something tragic happen at the Arena?).

Third: This act of defiance says that there are people who would rather make a political statement rather than work to resolve any concerns they have in the community — just like everyone else does. This is a democracy after all, that’s how it works. As a result, the guise of doing something noble reveals the true motives of PRATAC as less than inspiring.

Fourth: Only by way of the CBC story was the true meaning of the lowered flag revealed. And if there is any doubt, just ask CBC who reported the story.

Fifth: The intended message of lowering the flag for Humboldt (if that was the actual message) instantly became anything but about the Humboldt accident — for the people of Humboldt would not be here to see it. The only way for Humboldt (or any other community) could see this message would be through an official communication from our town. Knowing full well this never happens simply by lowing a flag, the act became exclusively about PRATAC’s message to the town of Almonte and not a message of support for Humboldt as they claimed. You see, you can’t forcibly lower a flag and claim “At least it’s a message to all of Almonte that some stand in solidarity with Humboldt” — not if it’s never been done before for anyone else (no precedent was ever made).

This is very disturbing to me, because the implications are quite profound. You see, without a precedent (that means no prior history of being done), the only message delivered to the town by forcibly lowering the flag could never be about solidarity for Humboldt. Someone understood full well their message of goodwill could never reach the Humboldt community with this kind of act, it wouldn’t even reach the local community — because there was no precedent, it came with no official communication. This is a non-starter on the premise of good will for Humboldt, it stops right there… goes no further.

The instant someone forces their views on the town, it sends a whole new message to the town. This new message was aimed specifically at the town council and to all of Almonte: PRATAC is willing to severely damage the image of Almonte on national news to make a political point against our town council. It appears their views are “right” and the elected council had better say yes to their every demand or they will take matters quite literally into their own hands — even if it means severely damaging the image of the entire community on national news.

What’s truly disturbing: perhaps this all was the plan all along, how else could this act mean anything else knowing full well it could never reach the survivors and families of the Humboldt accident? When I now look at the flag, I will never think of Humboldt, it will remind me only of PRATAC who will take matters into their own hands without my approval — on my supposed behalf, dragging the image of Almonte through the mud by crying fowl to CBC, and who won’t take no for an answer much less work with council to turn it into a yes. As a result, I’ve learned something about PRATAC from the CBC article, their core nature, and it troubles me deeply.

Still shaking my head, I really can’t believe someone would use the white-hot topic of the Humboldt tragedy as a tool to discredit our own town council in front of the entire country. But worse, those people who are suffering so greatly in Humboldt — must now endure more suffering by knowing their story of tragic loss was twisted into what’s likely a bitter and politically engineered plot over nothing, and I really mean nothing. I for one do not want the council this town elected to fall subservient to the demands of any group that employs extortion tactics if they don’t get what they want — as they see fit.

Everyone is entitled to their view and their say. Unfortunately, the cost of PRATAC’s misguided political message will be one the entire community must now pay for. As for the fallout of this anthill-into-a-tectonic-plate, it reveals just what measures members of PRATAC are willing to undertake when an official process does not align to their liking. In salute to PRATAC’s subversive achievements, I offer them a fitting slogan to use in the next municipal election: “PRATAC, Make Almonte Great Again.”

To the rest of Almonte who supports the growth of mature policies through established methods, stay strong. I’m proud to live in such a supporting community, as Almonte will always remain strong together in the face of division.