City of Ottawa denied ‘outrageous’ request to fly Russian flag

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa asked the city to fly the Russian flag and illuminate a wing of City Hall in red, white and blue to mark Russia Day on Sunday, but the city refused.

According to a statement from Arnold McLean, the city’s chief of protocol, his office received the request from the Embassy of the Russian Federation on Feb. 23, the day before Russian troops invaded Ukraine. 

The embassy asked the city to “raise their flag, and to illuminate the Heritage Building in recognition of Russia Day on June 12, 2022,” according to the statement.

Russia Day commemorates the creation of the Russian Federation on June 12, 1990. The national holiday was first observed in 1992.

The Ukrainian flag has been flying outside Ottawa City Hall since Feb. 24, in a gesture of solidarity. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Request surprised mayor

On Feb. 24, as a result of the invasion, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson ordered the flag of Ukraine be flown at City Hall “for an indefinite period of time,” and urged the mayors of other G7 capitals to do the same.

Watson also directed the protocol office to decline the request from the Russian Embassy.

It simply shows the character of the Russian state.– Borys Gengalo, Ukrainian Canadian Congress Ottawa

“[It’s] outrageous that they would even consider asking for it, and I told them under no circumstances will we raise your flag until you’re out of Ukraine, and we have the Ukrainian flag that is still flying and will remain flying on our plaza until the Russians leave the country,” Watson said Friday.

“I was surprised that they came and asked for it,” he said. “You would think that they’d put two and two together that we’re not going to fly their flag on our property.”

In early March, Watson joined Andrii Bukvych, chargé d’affaires at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa, to install blue and yellow signs reading “Free-Libre Ukraine” on Charlotte Street, directly across from the Russian Embassy.

At the time, Watson called the gesture “a small symbol of defiance.”

A pro-Ukraine supporter waves the country’s flag outside the Russian Embassy in Ottawa on Feb. 24. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

‘They don’t care about public opinion’

According to Ottawa’s official policy on flag-raising, the city “will fly the flag of any nation on its national day with whom Canada has diplomatic relations.”

However, the city “will not fly the flag of a group or organization whose undertakings or philosophy are contrary to City of Ottawa policies or bylaws, espouse hatred, violence, or racism, or are politically or religiously motivated or represent other individual conviction.”

Borys Gengalo, president of the Ottawa chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said the fact that the Russian Embassy would make such a request on the eve of a brutal military invasion of a sovereign neighbour says a lot about their mentality.

“It simply shows the character of the Russian state. They’re bold, they’re brassy, they don’t care about public opinion. They demand that things be done for them,” he said.

“The very invasion of Ukraine is a sample of their mentality, and it’s reflected in what the Russian Embassy does here.”

Attempts on Friday to reach the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Ottawa were unsuccessful.

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