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OPINION: Selective Neutrality Bylaw

In the wake of the recent vote on the "Neutrality Bylaw" in the Town of Westlock, it's imperative to voice dissent against what appears to be a misguided attempt at governmental neutrality.

While proponents of the bylaw argue that it is about governments remaining neutral and not against any specific group, the implications of such legislation are far-reaching and potentially harmful to the principles of fairness.

At first glance, the idea of governmental neutrality might sound appealing. After all, shouldn't governments serve all citizens without favouritism or bias? However, the devil lies in the details, and the Westlock Neutrality Bylaw sets a dangerous precedent that threatens to undermine our society.

The proponents of the bylaw, led by Stephanie Bakker, argue that it's not about singling out any particular group but rather about maintaining impartiality. Bakker claims that governments should not be in the business of promoting any group whatsoever. While this may sound reasonable on the surface, the practical implications of such a stance are perplexing.

Consider the example of the Pride crosswalk that was painted earlier this year. Under the Neutrality Bylaw, such displays of support for marginalized communities are now prohibited.

The bylaw's restrictions extend beyond symbolic gestures like the Pride crosswalk. It mandates the removal of any flag besides the municipal, provincial, and federal flags from town properties. This blanket prohibition not only stifles freedom of expression but also fails to recognize the diverse tapestry of identities and cultures that make up our communities.

Supporters of the bylaw, such as Benita Pedersen, argue that elected representatives should serve people fairly and impartially, without elevating one group above others. While this sentiment is commendable, the implementation of the Neutrality Bylaw may infact achieve the opposite effect.

The implications of governmental neutrality extend beyond symbolic gestures to encompass broader policies and practices. For example, if governments are truly committed to neutrality, shouldn't they refrain from endorsing specific religious holidays? Yet, every Christmas, municipalities across the country install Christmas trees and decorations in their offices and downtown cores without hesitation.

When did you last see a Menorah light in rural Alberta by a Mayor or even a Kinara? It seems pretty biased against other religious holidays if you ask me.

If the principle of neutrality is to be applied consistently, then all religious holidays should be treated equally, and government support for Christmas should be reconsidered. However, the absurdity of such a proposition highlights the fundamental flaw in the Neutrality Bylaw—it promotes a false sense of neutrality that is inherently biased and discriminatory.

The bylaw's implications extend beyond symbolic gestures to encompass broader policies and practices.

For instance, the exemption of certain entities from property taxes, such as churches and non-profit organizations, raises questions about fairness and equality. While these exemptions may have existed for years, they are fundamentally at odds with the principle of neutrality espoused by the proponents of the Westlock bylaw. In 2022, Iqaluit accomplished a significant feat by becoming the first city in the county to implement a fair taxation bylaw. By April 2022, the City had officially passed the third and final reading of this bylaw, ensuring that all organizations, regardless of their nature, would be subject to property taxes unless they successfully applied for an exemption, which would then be granted at the discretion of the city.

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout defended the bylaw in an interview with Global News in Iqaluit, “It’s not fair to the rest of the municipality to have to carry the burden of a faith-based group."

If governments are truly committed to neutrality, all organizations, regardless of their religious or non-religious affiliation, should be subject to the same tax requirement. We can no longer be a land of selective neutrality.

The concept of choosing when to remain neutral and when to take a stance presents a fundamental contradiction.

Neutrality inherently implies impartiality and an absence of bias, indicating a consistent stance regardless of the situation. However, advocating for selective neutrality challenges this principle. To profess neutrality on certain issues while actively opposing or supporting others reveals a lack of genuine neutrality. It suggests that individuals are not truly neutral but are instead using neutrality selectively to evade responsibility or consequences for their beliefs or actions, akin to creating an illusion of impartiality while harbouring underlying biases or agendas.

True neutrality requires a steadfast commitment to impartiality and non-partisanship across all circumstances. It necessitates refraining from taking sides or displaying favouritism consistently.

Any departure from this standard undermines the integrity of any neutrality fight.


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