In the wake of a huge turnout at the Chilliwack Pride Festival downtown on Sunday, community leaders have been firing off letters to council in a renewed push for a rainbow crosswalk downtown.
City council is being asked to remove the policy that prohibits crosswalk decoration of any kind in Chilliwack.
Downtown business owner Amber Price, who led the first rainbow crosswalk campaign, said it’s time for council to remove the crosswalk policy, as well as the flag policies passed by previous councils.
“Chilliwack Pride 2021 showed the overwhelming public support for moving our city ahead in a more progressive, inclusive fashion,” Price said.
Organizers estimate that 4,500 people attended the Chilliwack Pride Festival throughout the day in Central Community Park on Aug. 23.
“With almost two dozen rainbow crosswalks on private land, schools, and Indigenous land, it is time for the City of Chilliwack to join the celebration, remove policy J-11 and install a rainbow crosswalk at Wellington and Mill Street,” Price said.
Young people are watching what the city does on this file, Price added, and they deserve “a better future” in Chilliwack.
“We all have the right to learn from, and recover from our mistakes. We are better together,” Price said.
The Chilliwack Citizens for Change (CCFC) group has also sent a letter to city hall asking mayor and council to approve the rainbow crosswalk, and remove the policies prohibiting crosswalk decoration and flag-raisings.
“On Sunday, our community demonstrated to our children that we have grown as a city as we came together to celebrate love and inclusion in a way previously unimaginable in this town,” according to the letter from CCFC. “It is time for policy and action to reflect the community’s needs and make good on the promises to our youth. It is time for a rainbow crosswalk.”
But the mayor had a different take on it.
”The Chilliwack Pride Festival was a wonderful inclusive event that brought the community together in a positive way,” Mayor Ken Popove said in a statement, adding that $1,500 was the city’s contribution for the event.
The need to fund inclusive and accessible events was identified in the Mayor’s Task Force on Inclusiveness, Diversity and Accessibility’s (MTFIDA) Action Plan, Popove noted, adding he was pleased to attend Pride.
However the mayor did not address the question of whether council will reconsider its anti-rainbow crosswalk policy, or the one about flags, and instead pointed to the city’s action plan on inclusiveness, diversity and accessibility:
“We plan to continue moving forward with the goals and actions identified in the MTFIDA Action Plan in order to address a wide range of needs and opportunities related to inclusiveness, diversity and accessibility,” Popove concluded in his statement.
The policy in question, policy directive J-11, passed in 2017, known as the Crosswalk Decoration Policy states: “The City of Chilliwack will not authorize crosswalk decoration on city crosswalks supporting political or religious movements or commercial entities.”
Coun. Jason Lum was the lone council member to vote in favour of the rainbow crosswalk in the Sept. 3, 2019 council vote. Lum said at the time if it were up to him, he would revise the policy against decorated crosswalks.
Coun. Sue Knott said at the time that she did not support the rainbow crosswalk idea because council is “elected and funded by all citizens” of the community, and that councillors were not elected to make “political statements.”
“When it comes to painting a rainbow on a crosswalk, or baby feet, crosses, anti immigration or anything else, it becomes a political statement,” Knott said. “It also becomes a target for vandalism and a canvas for intolerance and hate. You cannot change attitudes by painting crosswalks.”
Louis De Jaeger, economic development minister for Métis Nation, said as an Indigenous leader in B.C. as well as a businessperson and educator he applauded the successful Pride event.
“It was a joy to see so many families enjoying an atmosphere of inclusiveness,” De Jaeger said. “Where do we go from here? The only threat to inclusion now is policy J-11. It has to go.”
When council first approved the J-11 policy, it was based on a staff recommendation.
According to the staff report: “Historically, all crosswalks have been maintained in a consistent manner with the primary purpose of assisting pedestrians to cross streets and roads. The Crosswalk Decoration Policy was implemented in 2017 to ensure those crosswalks remain consistent in appearance and continue to serve as safety devices for pedestrians.”
The first rainbow crosswalks to appear locally, as council was considering the first request, were on Squiala First Nation land at Eagle Landing in August 2019, followed by the ones on Tzeachten First Nation land at Vedder Plaza. Two crosswalks were painted in rainbow colours on private driveways, one was approved at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) property, one on the Chilliwack School District office site, and several schools have since had them painted as well.
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