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Symbolism of Canadian flag viewed differently among Calgarians in wake of protests


The appearance of the Canadian flag at COVID-19 mandate protests across the country is prompting Albertans to question what the red and white Maple Leaf truly means to them.

The flag, often viewed as a symbol of patriotism, is now being waved in the name of freedom and the ability to choose amid pandemic restrictions that some Canadians view as a breach of their fundamental rights.

Experts on the topic such as Carmen Celestini, a post-doctoral fellow with the Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University’s school of communication, says flag waving at protests is giving some people a deep moment of reflection.

She says the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools across Canada first sparked protests where flags were flown upside down – a symbol of distress – as Canada Day celebrations were condemned.

“It was also attached to some ideas of right-wing extremism, conspiracy theories and questionable attitudes toward the government, so people were really questioning who we were and what that image means and what it's broadcasting to the rest of the world,” said Celestini.

“I think that although we are questioning now and doing a self-assessment of ourselves as a nation, I think that the flag will hold strong and people still hold that pride to it and think of something that is symbolic, a polite nation, a country that cares.”

Celestini adds other countries like New Zealand and Australia however are now waving Canadian flags as a symbol to show Canadians started the trucker convoy and freedom protests.

“It became a rallying call with so much of the protest movement that we see based on populism and nationalism and that flag can be resonant with them," said Celestini. "It can be a social movement tool, so we can see them finding unity.”

Despite it symbolising freedom, some Calgarians are disappointed how the flag has been portrayed at protests.

Saima Jamal, co-founder of the Calgary immigrant Support Society, came to Canada from Bangladesh about 25 years ago and says the Canadian flag should always be viewed as a symbol of pride, unity and love.

She believes the majority of Canadians wave flags with those powerful emotions in mind, but she disagrees with use of flags at COVID-19 mandate protests. 

“Lately I've been seeing that this flag is being carried by people that don't believe in science, that want to undemocratically get rid of this government, that want to put in place something that is very dangerous and use this flag to carry out illegal activities blockades,” she said.

“Some protesters have been using the flag to stop billions of dollars worth of trade, they're using the flag to keep the people of Ottawa awake day and night by honking and by screaming at people that wear masks.”

Jamal adds that she’s proud to be Canadian and recalls getting her citizenship in 2003 as one of the very best moments of her life.

“It made me feel powerful, you know, it made me feel like I'm now the citizen of one of the world's best countries, so it's a huge sense of pride and happiness and that’s what the flag should symbolize," she said.


That sentiment is shared by newcomers to Canada like Freshta Aslamzada, who immigrated to Calgary as a refugee from Kabul, Afhanistan just four months ago.

She remembers the moment she first saw the Canadian flag in her native country. 

“When I was evacuated from Afghanistan, we had to print the flag of Canada and show them to the soldiers, so I went to a print organization and asked for the flag of Canada,” she said.

“In that moment the Canadian flag meant unity, it meant hope, and also a bright future.”

When asked about the freedom convoy protests taking place in Alberta and across the country, Aslamzada added that everyone has the right to their own views, but the flag shouldn’t be displayed upside down or defaced.

“The reality of a flag for any country is the identity behind it and how it is very acceptable and dear to them, so when you don't appreciate someone's flag, it’s like disrespecting someone's identity so it means that you don't appreciate them at all.”

So as the image of the Canadian flag takes on a different meaning, some Calgarians hope others can put aside their differences and live without divisive feelings toward each other.

Al Seddon is a local veteran who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1954 and served 22 years.

He says the image of an upside down flag or its defacement at protests upsets him, but he says this can still be a good opportunity to learn about each other.

“The Canadian flag is sacred, it is a symbol of our unity,” he said.

“I think if people put half as much effort into working towards making things better than tearing it apart, we’d all be better off." Top Stories

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