Whether or not Canadian flags are now flying at full or half-mast in recognition of residential school unmarked graves depends on whose flags they are.
The National Flag of Canada was universally lowered to half-mast in the wake of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School in May.
But consensus about when to raise those flags is far from universal, leading to some flags in Terrace remaining at half-mast close to three months after the discovery, while others were raised back to the top of flag poles in early June.
Governments at all levels have guidelines and protocols for half-masting the Maple Leaf, but in this case normal time-limits were eschewed by the federal government, and there is no official end date.
The Canadian flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa and on all Government of Canada buildings and establishments across the country were lowered to half-mast from May 30 until “further notice” to acknowledge the discovery of human remains at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, according to the federal government.
That includes the flags at federal organizations and Crown corporations like the Terrace RCMP detachment and Canada Post on Emerson St. In a statement, the Terrace RCMP confirmed that their flag would remain at half-mast until “further notice,” and did not provide a timeline to raise its flag.
There does appear to be confusion about flag policy even within organizations. The Canadian flag at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building on Keith Ave. — despite being a federal government building — is not at half-mast. Neither is the flag at the Provincial Court of British Columbia in Terrace.
Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said that the flags at all Northern Health facilities, including Terraceview Lodge, would remain at half-mast indefinitely, as per direction from the provincial government.
But Terraceview Lodge’s flag was returned to full-mast on Aug. 16, just hours after the Terrace Standard first inquired about its status.
Coast Mountain College still has its flags lowered across its campuses.
“We align our campuses with government direction and will keep the Canadian national flag at half-mast until further notice,” said Justin Kohlman, President of Coast Mountain College, in an email.
But government direction has not necessarily been timely or clear, leaving some organizations to make decisions for themselves.
Coast Mountains School District 82 lowered the flags at its schools and offices on May 29. Superintendent Janet Meyer said that at the time there was no specific direction from the Ministry of Education. She made the decision to lower the flags to half-mast for 215 hours.
“[Raising the flag] was early compared to other sectors, if you will, and early as the ministry did come out with direction after that, but after we had already put ours back up,” Meyer said.
“When they went back up, it was symbolic of an indication of the work that we still have to do for truth and reconciliation, so just because you put your flag up doesn’t mean you’re done.”
The Canadian flag at Veritas Catholic School, which is not part of CMSD82, remains at half-mast, as does BC Hydro, a provincial Crown corporation.
The City of Terrace also lowered the Canadian flags at city hall and municipal buildings for 215 hours. Kate Lautens, city communication officer, said that the city’s flag lowering procedure states that flags are to be lowered as a sign of respect and mourning for a 48-hour period on designated days. The chief administrative officer has the ability to half-mast the flags on other occasions too.
“These ‘other occasions’ would typically be to recognize and mourn a specific death. In the case of the discovery at the residential school in Kamloops, this was definitely a situation when this timeline needed to be extended,” Lautens said.
Now, the city’s Canadian flag is flying at the top of its pole, steps away from the Terrace RCMP’s Maple Leaf, which is at half-mast.