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The Canadian flag evokes mixed emotions these days.

Although it is used as a source of national pride during the Olympics or World Cup qualifiers, it is also a common sight during anti-mandatory protests across the country.

This dichotomy worries people like Bill Stinson of West Kelowna, British Columbia.

“Before, I could show my pride in my country by flying our flag,” he wrote in an email to CBC.

“Our flag has now become a symbol of the so-called ‘freedom’ protesters who have invaded Ottawa. You see lots of local supporters flying the flag from cars and trucks.”

But those who believe in the protest say the use of the flag makes perfect sense.

“The use of our flag is entirely appropriate,” Gray Creek’s Dave Johnston said in an email.

“This is a fight for our country and the freedom to live our lives free from government oppression. It’s time for people to wake up and see where we are going and change the script to respect our individual rights.”

Experts say the flag represents a freedom to express views, as long as it is done peacefully and does not harm others. This includes people of all beliefs – they can share their opinions, as long as they don’t spread hate.

“Some people are going to support the way the flag is being used in the protest and some people are going to be hurt by it because flags have so much symbolism attached to them,” said Kathy Brock, a professor of public policy at Queen’s University. , to Chris Walker. , the host of CBC South sunrise.

Canada’s Mikaël Kingsbury celebrates his silver medal run in the men’s moguls final at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China on Saturday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow with the Simon Fraser University Disinformation Project, said how the flag is used by protesters affects Canadians’ perception not only of the flag itself, but also of Canada as a nation. .

“We think of ourselves as Canada the good, the peacekeepers, and we kind of have this push in front of us that maybe that’s not entirely true,” she said.

“Throughout the pandemic, one of the notions that we’ve really pushed is this trope of unity, we’ve all come together. We’re now absolutely facing the complete opposite of those notions and anger and hatred and joints of disappointment and anger against our nation.”

complicated story

Canadians’ relationship with patriotic symbols has been complicated for years.

University of Guelph historian Matthew Hayday said CBC Cross Country Checkup that opposition to Canada Day and other patriotic symbols has existed for decades.

Last year, following news of the discovery of potential burial grounds at former Indian residential schools in Canada, flags were lowered to half mast During months. The country’s national holiday has taken on new meaning as communities, on the whole, opted to cancel celebrations and instead encouraged residents to reflect on Canada’s history and its relationship with Indigenous peoples.

A woman in a truck holds an anti-vaccine mandate sign as she takes part in a rally in Vancouver on Saturday, February 5, 2022. (Andrew Lee/CBC News)

In some instances in recent protests, the flag has been raised upside down, which is historically a sign of distress within a nation. Federal rules say the flag should never be flown upside down, burned or marked, among other things.

Brock, who studies the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on governance in Canada, said the flag is used prominently in this movement as a way for protesters to remind the Canadian government that they are citizens. Canadians and that they deserve to be heard.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said He won’t negotiate with protesters. The government’s disinterest in engaging with protesters is one reason the protests are heating up, Brock said.

“If the flag is denigrated or if it becomes a violent or disruptive protest … then the government must act,” Brock said. “You have to start talking to people and give people a reason to say, OK, we’ve been heard, now we can go home.”