The southwestern Ontario township in the midst of a culture war over gay Pride symbols hired a boutique law firm that specializes in representing churches and religious institutions to help it draft its flag by law, CBC News has learned.
Norwich Township used the Ottawa-based Acacia Group to help it come up with its flag and banner policy, township clerk and chief administrative officer Kyle Kruger confirmed.
The controversial bylaw forbids non-civic flags from being flown on municipal property and led one councillor to resign in protest.
The Acacia Group is a law firm with Christian roots. A statement on the website said the company “seeks to preserve our clients’ ministries, their good works and their legacy for many generations.”
“Our clients are passionate about their callings and their unique missions are focused and clear. We meet their needs for researching and keeping clear of legal issues so they can focus their efforts on what really matters: their work.”
It was a staff decision to hire the law firm, and it is common for the township to hire experts when drafting certain bylaws, Kruger said.
Just how much legal advice cost isn’t yet known, he said, because Norwich Township has not yet received its invoice from the Acacia Group.
Flag flap leaves community divided
Meanwhile, in Norwich, the culture war continues ahead of June, which is Pride month.
Some residents in the township are flying Pride flags on their private properties, printing “Norwich Proud” T-shirts and rainbow buttons, while others are ripping down Pride stickers and washing away rainbows painted in chalk on the sidewalk.
Heather Pember is a long-term Norwich resident. She’s against the new bylaw and is flying a large Pride flag from her house.
Many of those opposed to the public display of Pride flags are members of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation (NRC).
Pember says NRC members have always been seen as a valued part of the Norwich community but said the stance some members are taking on the flag issue has left the township divided.
“One side is coming with love and acceptance, and the other side is coming with a lot of hate and disdain,” she said. “We’ve been trying to be cohesive and fair and accepted out here for decades.”
CBC News reached out to members of the NRC for comment but were told they preferred not to be interviewed.
Major Jim Palmer, who backed the new flag bylaw, also did not respond to requests from CBC News for comment.
Pember said many in favor of the flag bylaw have posted hateful messages on local Facebook groups.
She said for the first time, some NRC business owners are saying they no longer need the support of people outside their congregation. At the same time, he said many opposed to the new flag bylaw were vowing not to visit NRC-owned businesses.
“And that is unfortunate,” said Pember. “How are we going to stop this going forward? Those flags are going to have to fly.”
Peter Luciani has lived in Norwich for 19 years. He hung a large rainbow flag outside his residence.
“Next month is Pride month and that’s the reason why we put it up today,” he said.