An Alberta town has passed a bylaw allowing only government flags and banning any non-standard crosswalks – removing the town’s current pride-coloured crosswalk.

The ballot question presented to Westlock’s residents had three parts.

“Only Federal, Provincial, and Municipal flags may be flown on flagpoles on Town of Westlock municipal property. All crosswalks in the Town of Westlock must be the standard white striped pattern between two parallel white lines. The existing rainbow coloured crosswalk in the Town of Westlock be removed.”

The final vote results, tallied Thursday night, were close, with 663 people voting yes and 639 people voting no.

Following a proposal from a local secondary school’s gay-straight alliance, Westlock councillors unanimously approved the town’s first rainbow crosswalk last May.

In September 2023, Westlock received a petition advocating for a Crosswalk and Flagpole Bylaw.

The petition was led by Westlock resident Stephanie Bakker and asked council to make a bylaw “ensuring that crosswalks and flags on public property remain neutral.”

According to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, a petition must be signed by at least 10% of a municipality’s population to go before council. Westlock, a town about an hour north of Edmonton, has a population of approximately 5,000 people.

Bakker, alongside the Westlock Neutrality team, gathered over 700 signatures from locals, compelling the town council to initiate the formal proceedings to adopt the suggested bylaw.

The petition was formally verified Oct. 30, 2023. A bylaw reflecting the statements made in the petition was subsequently drafted and introduced to the council Nov. 27.

Council was required to give the bylaw first reading and either pass it or put it to a town-wide vote. Lawmakers did the latter, with the vote held Thursday.

One resident in support of Bakker, Benita Pedersen, said elected representatives should serve people fairly and impartially — which she believes has not happened.

“We’re having a vote on neutrality, and the irony is this council can’t even be neutral,” said Pedersen.

Westlock Mayor Jon Kramer said council has been fully supportive of the crosswalk following a campaign that calls on residents to vote no and “stand for inclusion.”

Kramer said that council members went out in the community, encouraging residents to vote against the bylaw.

The GoFundMe page to vote for an “inclusive” Westlock received 37 donations, accruing $2,890 of its $20,000 goal.

Funds from the page were to drive an information campaign through mailers, social media messaging, and signage in the community. The remaining funds were to “be donated directly to building Westlock’s first Inclusive playground.”

While Bakker went door-to-door to receive petition signatures, she also released a message online talking to Westlock’s residents about the petition and subsequent vote about a month prior to it being held. 

“We’ve seen the rapid spread of the idea that some Canadians should receive preferential treatment. Equal under the law isn’t enough. Some apparently must be promoted above others. This is the idea of equity,” said Bakker. 

Bakker explained that giving the government the power to choose which groups receive preferential treatment today is a recipe for disaster, as they are able to decide who is worthy and unworthy. She added that once this power is given to the government, it’s very hard to take it back.

She added that when going door to door with the petition, the comments received were primarily polite, whether residents were for or against the bylaw. 

Instead of addressing the concerns of residents, Bakker said that the council and mayor called them a radical minority.

“Which is an interesting thing to say considering that several of these councillors were appointed to their positions with less votes than the petition itself received,” said Bakker.