Former Canadian flag, the Red Ensign, gets new, darker life as far-right symbol | National Post

Sigh …:

When five members of the anti-immigration, alt-right Proud Boys strode into a Halifax park on Canada Day to confront Indigenous protesters, the Canadian flag they carried was more than 50 years out of date.

With a Union Jack in the corner and a coat of arms on a red background, the Canadian Red Ensign held aloft by one member has largely disappeared from public view since it was replaced in 1965 by the Maple Leaf.

But the Red Ensign, a variation of which Canadian troops fought under in both world wars, has recently taken on a darker symbolism, adopted as Canada’s equivalent of the Confederate flag by some extremists here.

The perversion of the Red Ensign was first observed among white supremacists, who saw it as a throwback to a time when Canadians were overwhelmingly white and of European extraction.

Anti-immigrant protests by the Aryan Guard in Calgary featured the Red Ensign as far back as 2008, and photos showed group members decorated their apartments with the flag alongside a Nazi flag and a Confederate flag.

When John Beattie, who founded the Canadian Nazi Party in the 1960s and remains a white supremacist, ran for municipal office in 2014, a reporter noted that he flew the Red Ensign flag at his home.

 Notorious white nationalist Paul Fromm has campaigned to have the Red Ensign returned as Canada’s flag, calling it “the flag of the true Canada, the European Canada before the treasonous European replacement schemes brought in by the 1965 immigration policies.”

Northern Dawn, a Canadian alt-right website launched last year to defend Western heritage against “chaos,” has used the Red Ensign as its Facebook cover photo. In a July 1 essay on the site, Gerry Neal decried the 1965 replacement of the Red Ensign with the current flag as evidence of a Liberal revision of national symbolism “to eliminate reference to our British heritage.”

Anti-Racist Canada has been tracking the growing popularity of the Red Ensign among extremist groups for years. A spokesperson, who for safety reasons asked to be identified only as Chris, said racists have adopted the Red Ensign “to represent a time when Canada was a ‘white man’s country.’ They view the flag that flies in Canada today as an abomination representing multiculturalism and diversity.

“If you attend any far-right rally or march in Canada, there is a very good chance that, along with ‘white pride,’ Nazi, and Confederate flags, you will also see the Red Ensign being flown rather than the Maple Leaf.”

For the Royal Canadian Legion, which flies the Red Ensign outside its headquarters and includes the flag in its official colour party, the idea that it has been adopted by extremists is hard to stomach.

“There is significant and genuine affection for the Red Ensign in the veterans’ community of Canada for the reason that wars were fought and lives were lost under that flag,” Bill Maxwell, secretary of the Legion’s Poppy and Remembrance Committee, said.

“Canadians fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. I don’t think they fought to have the Red Ensign denigrated in such a manner, quite frankly.”

Caitlin Bailey, executive director of the Canadian Centre for the Great War, in Montreal, said the Red Ensign was a symbol of unity as a young nation went to war. It was the flag that flew over Vimy Ridge to signal its 1917 capture by Canadian troops.

“It’s unfortunate that it has turned into a white nationalist symbol,” she said. “It’s not right, and it flies in the face of what the Red Ensign means.”

C.P. Champion, editor of the history journal the Dorchester Review, recently wrote in support of greater prominence for the Canadian Red Ensign, arguing it should fly permanently at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

He said in an interview that he was disappointed when the self-described traditionalists of the Proud Boys were captured on video provoking Indigenous protesters with the flag.

“It looked like it was trivializing, or treating as a kind of talisman of defiance, a flag that has a much more venerable and mainstream role,” Champion said. “I’ve always thought it’s important not to let traditional symbols be appropriated by fringe elements.”

Source: Former Canadian flag, the Red Ensign, gets new, darker life as far-right symbol | National Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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