3 min

The rainbow connection

Citywide flag-raisings kick off Pride Week in Ottawa

Mayor Jim Watson (second from left) was joined by Chief Charles Bordeleau, Capital Pride chair Jodie McNamara and American Ambassador Bruce Heyman as the rainbow flag was raised over Ottawa City Hall. Credit: Julie Cruikshank

Ottawa got a little more colourful Aug 18 as the city’s public services showed their pride. Ottawa Police Service, OC Transpo, By-Law and Regulatory Services, Ottawa Fire Services and Ottawa Paramedic Service each raised the rainbow flag at their respective headquarters, culminating in an official flag-raising ceremony at city hall presided over by Mayor Jim Watson. Bruce Heyman, American ambassador, was also in attendance.

The day began with a pancake breakfast at Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street, where Chief Charles Bordeleau thanked members of the GLBT liaison committee for their work building bridges between the police and members of the city’s queer community.

A double-decker OC Transpo bus, festooned with rainbows inside and out and driven by OC Pride chair Matt Scott, shuttled revellers, members of Capital Pride and parade marshals to each of the sites where the ceremonies were held. As the rainbow flags went up, members of the city’s public services talked about the importance of being free to live and love as they choose, echoing the 2014 theme of Capital Pride, Free to Love. Many also spoke about the importance of being out and open at work.

“People want to celebrate the diversity of our community in all ways,” transit commission chair Diane Deans said. “We want to be a leading-edge workplace where people feel welcome and they feel they’re free to do their job without any form of discrimination.”

“When I first started here 14 years ago, there were a group of us who were out to each other, but it was sort of more private,” OC Transpo supervisor Kim Brazeau says. “Now it’s more visible. I think it’s a great thing to have more visible diversity in a large company like ours.” Plant worker Elmar Shaettgen, who is the father of a transgender child, says that knowing his employers support him has been extremely important.

Linda Anderson, chief of By-Law and Regulatory Services, helped raise the flag in front of the organization’s headquarters on Industrial Avenue. “I’m hoping it sends a message that we value all members of our community, both our internal staff and our clients that we serve every single day,” she says, explaining that in recent years the city’s bylaw services have made an effort to reach out to minority groups throughout Ottawa, including the LGBT and aboriginal communities.

The flag-raising ceremony at Ottawa Fire Services headquarters was accompanied by a barbecue lunch served up by the city’s firefighters, prompting much tongue-in-cheek jesting from the drag queens in attendance. The ceremony was especially poignant for Capital Pride chair Jodie McNamara, who grew up nearby in the Kitchissippi neighbourhood.

“It never really occurred to me, sitting at that [nearby] bus stop, to wish for a rainbow flag in front of the fire station. It would never [have occurred] to me that such a thing would even be possible. But I can tell you that it would’ve meant a great deal to me having it there,” she told the crowd, saying she hopes the flag will now inspire hope in others.

McNamara says Pride is an important time to promote understanding between the LGBT community and the city’s public services. “Seeing an acknowledgment that there are improvements to be made and there are struggles that persist between the larger community and the city services, and seeing so many great people, parts of both groups working together to make it even better, it’s great.”

Paramedic staff took advantage of the influx of people attending the flag-raising ceremony at their headquarters on Don Reid Drive, leading participants in a CPR training session and quizzing them on emergency preparedness.

The day’s festivities ended with the official City of Ottawa flag-raising at city hall. Mayor Jim Watson took the opportunity to remind the crowd of the decision he and other Canadian mayors took to raise the flag during the Sochi Olympics as a protest against Russia’s anti-gay stance. “It really was sending a clear message to the world that it doesn’t matter who you love; it only matters that you love,” he said.

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi was unable to attend the ceremonies but sent a statement with his regrets. Ambassador Heyman thanked the mayor for his support of LGBT rights, stating his personal support of the gay community as well as President Barack Obama’s commitment to the issue. “I’m very proud of the president, who’s been incredibly supportive of gay and lesbian rights, not only in the United States, but worldwide.”  

In light of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s continued refusal to acknowledge Pride events, Watson reiterated his commitment to representing the LGBT community in Ottawa. “A mayor is elected to represent all people.”