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Rebel flag's appearance on a parade float drew very pointed reactions.

The Canby City Council at its July 6 meeting received an earful from Canby residents upset about the Sons of Confederate Veterans float that appeared in the Canby Independence Day Celebration parade.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), headquartered in Tennessee but “locally” based in Condon, which is in central Oregon about two hours northeast of Madras on Highway 19, entered the parade approximately two hours before the 9:30 a.m. start time, according to one city official.

The group’s “float” consisted of a flatbed trailer being pulled behind a tractor followed by a black pickup truck, both flying Confederate flags and with participants of each vehicle dressed in Civil War-era clothing and soldier’s uniforms.

Canby resident Sarah Spoon, 38, told the city council she has lived in Canby for 30 years, graduated Canby High School and now has four children in Canby schools. She said that while the Canby Independence Day Celebration was “amazing overall,” the SCV float, and what it stood for — many people in this day and age consider the “Rebel flag” a symbol of hate — has no place in a city-sanctioned event.

“I’m am not here today to ask the city council to ban anyone from any events, or to limit free speech,” Spoon said. “I am here to implore the council to pass a resolution disavowing the public display of the Confederate flag. Canby is the town where I was raised and where I’ve chosen to raise my four children. I believe in this town. I defend it to my more urban living friends on a daily basis and insist they have an inaccurate depiction of our city. I repeatedly insist that Canby is not backwards, or racist, or 100 years behind the rest of the Metro area. We are the last great piece of Americana. But now we are at risk for being an embarrassment and for drawing attention to our town for all of the wrong reasons.”

Cindy Riley, who said she and her family have lived in Canby for 25 years, told the council she’s only had one sad day in the community out of all those years, and it was on Independence Day 2016.

“The sadness came when I was trying to explain to my grandchildren, who are pre-teens, why there would be Confederate flags in this city,” Riley said. “There’s been a lot in the news during the last year about Confederate flags, even from the South, the controversy and the implication (the sight of the flag) sends to people.”

Canby resident Chris Waffle told the council that seeing the SCV float come around the corner during the downtown parade was akin to a record scratching.

“Everyone was cheering and having a great time and then …” Waffle said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Normally, I would boo this.’ I don’t agree with it but is this something the city wants? Is this a city function? My hope is that, with the similar opinions on the gun laws or marijuana dispensaries in town that we hear some strong words from the council about what happened and anything in the future regarding what our community stands for.”

Canby city Administrator Rick Robinson said as a public agency the city has an absolute obligation to honor the Constitution of the United States and the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is critically important to the freedoms that we enjoy.

“As a city, we have a perfect opportunity to share our lack of support for hate-related, in this case, floats, but we don’t have the right to exclude something simply because it bothers us,” Robinson said. “As a teaching opportunity, perhaps what I would tell one of my nine grandchildren would be that this is something we don’t respect. This is something we don’t honor. But it is something we except because it is part of the principals that we enjoy with the First Amendment to the Constitution. And that’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We can’t censor one group of people and pretend that every other one is fine. We have to fulfill our responsibility to support the Constitution of the United States and that does include the First Amendment.”

Councilor Greg Parker said this is yet another reason why the city should hand management of the event back over to a nonprofit, which could then discriminate against any individual entry it chooses.

“The history of this is seven months ago the previous nonprofit suddenly and unexpectedly quit and we did not want to see the celebration not proceed, so we picked it up for the first time as a municipal project,” Parker said. “With that come certain rules we have to follow.”

Parker said the city may be able to get from here to there but as municipal officers the city council doesn’t get to say, for instance, one political party is repugnant this year so I don’t want that party in the city’s parade.

“Could this same sentiment be used to keep a gay pride float out of the parade?” Parker asked. “It’s a double-edged sword once you move away from ‘all can come.’ Someone could say I don’t want Planned Parenthood or a pregnancy center in (the parade). I think once you go down that road it’s hard to stop, but we’re going to see how far we can go because I think we are of the same heart you are but we are sworn officers to uphold the Constitution and we are going to make sure our city attorney doesn’t sleep until he finishes the research on this.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Spoon presented the council with a copy of a resolution she wrote, borrowing the same outline the council used to frame Resolution 1217, which stated the city’s opposition to “any further infringement on the Constitutional right of law abiding citizens to acquire and possess firearms and ammunition,” saying that since this very city council set a precedent for taking a public stance on controversial issues related to the Second Amendment it has a “moral obligation to take a similar stand on the display of a flag that paraded down our own city streets.”

“Silence in this matter absolutely is complicity,” Spoon said. “If this very group of council members is willing to take a public stand on gun control surely you can also take a stand on behalf of the residents of color, which make up 25 percent of our community, regarding the public display of racist iconography. If the council is not willing to do so with the precedent it set with Resolution 1217 then something is fundamentally broken with our community where we are not ready to, nor will we ever, attract the new businesses, young professionals, millennials and new residents we seek.”

The morning following the city council meeting, Councilor Tracie Heidt posted to her public Facebook page a message denouncing the appearance of the flag and the city’s slow response to the issue.

“I am disappointed that the city of Canby has not yet made a public statement against the presence of the confederate flags that were paraded through town on that float,” Heidt wrote. “I was not aware that this float was going to be in our parade, and the message of hate and racism that it implies is certainly not something that I or the city of Canby supports. We respect the First Amendment of the Constitution, i.e. freedom of speech, and must uphold it. City leaders are called upon to lead in a time like this, and I am sorry that it has taken us so long to do so.

Community outrage

The morning of July 5, less than 24 hours after the end of the parade, the Canby Herald received many letters to the editor and telephone calls from community residents who are against the appearance of the Confederate flag in a city-sanctioned event. There also was a lot of discussion the day of the event on Facebook about the flag’s appearance in the parade with many people both for and against the Confederate flag’s appearance.

The SCV also handed out literature and placed it in the hand of one Canby citizen, active in veteran’s affairs, who is an African-American woman but did not want her name published. “I was pretty shook up,” she told the Herald. “I was shaking.”

The Herald obtained a copy of the handout, which says, “The memory and reputation of the Confederate soldier, as well as the motives for his suffering and sacrifice, are being consciously distorted by some in an attempt to alter history. A unique part of our nation’s cultural heritage will cease to exist unless the descendants of Southern soldiers resist those efforts.”

Additionally, a message posted in June on SCV website calls on each “camp,” or local chapter, to “find a local parade that their camp can participate in. There are way more supporters of The Cause than what is being said to us by the media.”

The SCV did not return repeated telephone calls from the Herald seeking comment about the group’s intentions, and why it chose to enter Canby’s parade.

In other city council news

The council also:

Approved a new liquor license for Wally’s Chinese Kitchen on Highway 99E.

Appointed Canby teacher Tony Crawford to the Historic Review Board for a term to end June 30, 2018.

Passed Ordinance 1445, which authorizes a contract with Curran-McLeod worth $118,000 for engineering services to complete the Mulino Road sewer and pumping station pipeline at the south corner of Mulino Road and SE 13th Avenue. A preliminary estimate for construction cost is $825,000 to complete the project but Robinson said he thinks “it will go beyond that.”

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