With the long weekend approaching, Honey Harbour, a top getaway destination and community (Georgian Bay, Ont.), is poised to welcome the annual influx of 10,000-plus seasonal tourists looking to de-stress and soak in stunning its views except—perhaps for this one (photo above).
Until yesterday, at the top of the 200-foot driveway to the only accessible boat launch for the public, a full-size, bright red and white anti-Trudeau flag stamped with a Nazi swastika symbol was flying.
The flag, fastened onto a movable metal frame, was strategically placed at eye level at that spot for maximum impact and influence some time in 2022. The owner of Rick’s Marina, Rick Parnell liked to move it around. The flag, at one point flew on a short pole at the end of the dock. It later moved to the side of the building before finding a new, more visible, in-your-face-like-it-or-not spot out front.
Parnell is originally from Hamilton and purchased the marina approximately seven years ago; Parnell understands the flag is “contentious.” He ignored prior complaints, including heartfelt appeals by close friends to remove, move, or replace it. Parnell deeply believes what the flag says, even though this puts him at odds with the values of the broader community. When challenged about the Nazi swastika, Parnell argued that red line through the swastika image made it OK.
Local officials and business leaders we spoke with all wanted to see it removed. They expressed unanimous concern about how offensive ways to express political dissent and use of hate symbols to intimidate reflects on the community and, worse, its potential impact on the local economy. Hate is not a tourist attraction.
But none were willing to go on record. They all know Rick. It’s a small town of 2,500 residents.
Efforts to leverage the power of local authorities or bylaws for a quick fix also came up short.
Tony Van Dam, Director of Fire and Emergency Services and other Georgian Bay Council staff confirmed that there is no anti-hate symbol bylaw on the books, making a quick removal next to impossible for law enforcement. However, Van Dam says “there is still an ongoing investigation into the matter.”
Tracking Hate Symbols
The lack of a process or bylaw to deal with displays of hate symbols on private property in public view is not unique to Honey Harbour. It has been a divisive issue in towns and cities across Canada in recent years, growing in step with the increase in the number and activities of alt-right groups and political parties in Canada.
Shauna Rae, founder of Radar Media which studies and produces a podcast (Clearing the Path) exploring racism and other forms of oppression in rural Canada adds “We all know racism is not new. But was is new is its fearless blatancy. Today, each of us has a responsibility to ensure a safe space for future generations. Sitting on your privilege is no longer an option.”
Currently, there are three separate Change.org petitions calling on the federal government, Town of London, Ont. and Cambridge, Ont. local governments to ban the use of hate symbols.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) launched a petition in 2023 demanding a Canada-wide ban on hate symbols. In 2022, NDP MP Peter Julian tabled Bill C-229 calling on Justin Trudeau to ban the display of hate symbols like Nazi and Confederate flags citing “that this is a critical step addressing hate and making our communities safer for everyone.”
The bill has not yet reached a second reading.
Even so, there are still signs of progress. The City of Hamilton, Ont. amended their bylaws in mid-August of 2020 to prohibit display of hate symbols on any city owned lands. However, the new bylaw does not address flags flying on private property across from, for example, a public playground or school.
The city of Edmonton, Alta., launched a new mobile app for its employees in 2023 to track and record the location of hate symbols and other trends over time.
At present, 43 countries ban hate symbols partially or outright. Canada is one of 21 countries still allowing these symbols to be used. Australia leads the way with its crackdown on the use of hate symbols, with the states of Queensland and New South Wales also applying the restriction to tattoos.
A recent report on hate symbols submitted to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage authored by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre finds that mischaracterizing and contextualizing a hate symbol (like placing a swastika in front of a maple leaf with a line through it) is an intentional strategy contemporary hate groups use to avoid public censure or legal consequences. Furthermore, research shows that teens and young adults “looking to attach their feelings of isolation and anger to something” are particularly vulnerable to hate group messaging and communications. Hate symbols in public space suggests hate is normal to kids.
At the same time, removing them does nothing to slow the growth of the hate mongers and hate movements. Reports say the number of far right groups has grown from 100 in 2015 to over 300 in 2023.
A flag can be removed, but not the hate in the hearts of those that raised it.
The Silver Lining
At approximately 5 p.m. EDT, May 18, the flag was moved out of view.
The law could not get the job done in time for the long weekend, but a small group of local citizens, once catalyzed, did.
Well known anthropologist Margaret Mead said “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.”
Honey Harbour is a case in point.
Honey Harbour was named by Trip Advisor in 2023 as one of the best places to visit. And now, arguably, it’s even better.
Call to action: Want to help? Download this guide from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Document what you see and send it along with a note to local authorities. Boycott businesses that promote hate. Support those who actively work to challenge it.
Note: On Friday, May 19 we confirmed that Mr. Parnell removed the flag from his property.
pk mutch is a Toronto/tkaronto based journalist, writer, entrepreneur, German-Canadian who works to help create a most just and safe world. Mutch and her partner rented the cabin from the Parnell’s for over four years. Finding their efforts to persuade the Parnell family to take the flag down, they vacated their beloved cabin and boat slip at the Marina. “As mother, teacher, friend to many whose families past and present endured the holocaust, there is no room for hate symbols of any kind, anywhere, anytime, in my opinion. There is love in this community. I fully support Honey Harbour’s efforts to not only deal with this example but also work to develop anti-hate bylaws in the future.”
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