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Olivia Chow skips Israeli flag raising event as ‘it’s a bit divisive’

‘There’s a war going on in the Middle East and people are protesting every weekend,’ the Mayor of Toronto said in a statement

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An Israeli flag raising ceremony to mark the country’s independence on Tuesday was not attended by Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who called the event “divisive” in a statement.

Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) falls from sundown on May 13 to sundown on May 14. In recognition of the event, Toronto city councillors gathered to raise the Israeli flag at City Hall on Tuesday morning as is tradition, but Chow opted not to participate.

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A statement from the Mayor’s office to National Post confirmed Chow’s absence at the flag raising event and a subsequent ceremony. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday morning, audio of which was shared with the Post, Chow said the decision to not attend was not hers.

“The decision is not mine, you know, city council, city protocol office was delegated the power to run the flag raising program in 1999,” she said, adding that she “generally” doesn’t attend flag raising events.

“I think it’s a bit divisive, because there’s a war going on in the Middle East and people are protesting every weekend,” she said. When questioned further about the divisiveness of the event, Chow elaborated, “Yes, it is, because it’s pretty clear there’s been demonstrations since October every weekend and emotions are very high. And I think it’s important that we hear each other and be empathetic.”

Criticism was swift on social media after an email from the mayor’s office was shared late on Monday night. The email noted that the “Mayor did not decide to fly the flag, and does not have the authority to approve or deny flag raising requests.”

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“The Mayor will not attend the flag raising. She believes raising it is divisive at this time, and understands the deep pain and anguish felt by many in the community,” reads the statement, which was also sent to the Post by the mayor’s office.

The statement was shared widely on X, formerly Twitter, including by lawyer and Toronto Sun columnist Warren Kinsella who honed in on the Mayor’s use of the term “divisive.”

“Fair is fair. No more Palestinian flags displayed at protests and rallies. Because that’s ‘divisive,” Kinsella posted to X Tuesday morning.

“There are Israeli flags on homes all over Toronto, which has a big Jewish population. Does Chow want them torn down because they’re ‘divisive?’” he added.

In Ottawa, the ceremony was originally cancelled due to security concerns amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The city later changed course, allowing the Jewish Federation of Ottawa to hold a small ceremony in a private event.

The flag was raised early Tuesday morning, a few hours before an anti-Israel rally took place at Ottawa City Hall.

Since 2007, the city, in conjunction with Global Affairs Canada, has raised the flags of more than 190 nations with which Canada has diplomatic relations to mark their national days of celebration or independence.

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The city acknowledged it would fly Israel’s flag, but without a public ceremony.

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When asked if cancelling the flag raising was ever an option in Toronto, Mayor Chow said no, citing the 1999 policy.

“Neither myself or any city councillors has the right to say yes or no to a flag raising,” she said. “We could change the policy and bring it back to a political decision rather than delegating it to the city protocol office but that would require a council decision.”

Chow added that she’s not in favour of making that change as she saw “far too much time debating which countries should or shouldn’t be able to raise the flags” as a councillor.

“I think it’s better to have the Protocol Office make decisions based on Global Canada guidelines,” she added.

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