A controversial banner that hung downtown and now on the North Shore will not come down before its time is up, Mayor Peter Milobar said Thursday.
The City started getting email complaints about the banner on Sunday, five days after it was strung across Victoria Street.
The blue banner with white lettering states: “One Life Can Make a Difference. Protect Human Life Week” and features a pro-life logo on the right side.
Milobar said the City had its lawyers look over the policy governing banners and whether it was in violation, as a result of the complaints.
The lawyers considered recent court case rulings and felt the courts would determine the City didn’t have the authority to remove it, based on its policies, he said.
The banner has been hung for two weeks at this time of year since 2009 and this is the first time the City has had complaints, said Milobar.
“We amended our policy in 2008 we had a request from this group (Kamloops Pro-Life Society) to put up banners. There was some back and forth about softening of language on the banner.”
As a rule, the City sets out the standards for the banners in terms of size and language that might be found offensive. The groups have the signs made, and City staff put them up every Tuesday, to hang for a week downtown, then on the North Shore for another week.
Then the banners are down for another year.
“It’s up to council to decide whether to change the policy. But in this day and age, it comes down to no banners at all or to have reasonable language,” he said.
Other groups that put up banners include ASK Wellness, Crime Stoppers, Run for the Cure and the MS Society.
“It’s not about whether we agree with the message, it’s what the law says we can or cannot do,” he said.
Bill Ligertwood of the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought was first to email the City.
It’s the group behind the banner trying to sell itself that concerns him.
“We feel that violates the City’s policy on banners. It states religious organizations are not to do it and no controversial issues. It’s a very religious org and a very controversial issue,” he said.
“This is the city’s own policy about putting up banners. This is their policy and we think they should stick to it. It certainly violates the controversial side of the policy.”
Ligertwood admitted no one seems to have noticed the banner in the three previous years. One member saw it last weekend and posted a photo on Facebook.
“I know the wording isn’t controversial, but it promotes an organization that’s controversial. And it’s very religious and extremely controversial.”
He said this isn’t about free speech, it’s about the City’s policy of not allowing controversial or religiously affiliated banners.
“Regardless of the wording on the banner, it’s the organization behind it that ‘s the problem,” he said.
“If they want to pay to put ads on buses, that’s fine with us.”
He compared the situation to a white supremacist group putting up a banner saying they embrace all races.
“It’s not about what’s on that banner,” he said.
“They’re trying to get credibility with the public by putting on this false mask.”
The B.C. Humanist Association, which follows a similar atheist, agnostic and secular philosophy to Ligertwood’s group, emailed out an open letter to Kamloops mayor and council asking for the removal of the banner. It also opposed Kelowna’s Protect Human Life Week this year and last.
In August, Kelowna City council voted to wipe out its courtesy flag program that saw flags promoting non-profits, visiting dignitaries or special events put up the pole at city hall. When the possibility of a pro-life flag flying arose, the ensuing reaction was enough to prompt the council to eliminate its policy.
Milobar said he wouldn’t want to see the banners scrapped in a similar manner.
“I have a hard time killing everything off in terms of putting banners up for the sake of one banner out of the mix. It’s been up for four years and this is the first time it’s turned into an issue.
“Personally, I don’t support the message on the banner. But I’m not threatened by it, either.”
The Kamloops Pro-Life Society did not respond to a call from the Daily News by deadline.