A dispute over whether or not a pride flag could stay in a business window at Riverbank Common boiled over in Ponoka last week.
Sarah Kumar of Sarah’s Specialty Cakes said she was asked to remove a pride flag from her window and to stop holding meetings in her business.
“Many things are being added to the narrative in this situation but at the end of the day, I was asked to take down the advertisement in my window, which is the Pride flag, and to stop holding meetings relating to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which is the root of the matter at hand,” she said.
Kumar said a letter was given to her on Sept. 12, by the landlord.
“In the letter, it states that I was in breach of my lease and needed to stop hosting Pride events (coffee chats and art activities) and was required to take down the small Pride flag I have in my shop window which they consider an advertisement,” she said in a statement.
Kumar said it all ultimately amounts to a violation of human rights.
“Showing (support) for a marginalized group is paramount. Being who you are and being made to feel comfortable in spaces where you live is of the utmost importance.”
She also questioned why the coffee gatherings were an issue when other cake decorating classes she has held weren’t a problem.
Kumar noted that the businesses in Riverbank Common run at various hours, and that she has been told that she requires permission from other tenants to host after-hours events.
“I have never been asked if I give permission for the events hosted after my business is closed, which leads me to question why the rules are different for me.”
She also said the flag was put up on June 1, and it was later that month she re-signed her lease but that the issue wasn’t raised at that time.
“I would like to make sure that everyone knows that I am still here, still open, and still doing everything I can to provide service to our community,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
Bruce Blackmore, owner of Riverbank Common, said that ultimately, it’s not a human rights issue.
He said that in the lease agreement, which is for every business housed at Riverbank Common, it says that no placards of any kind are permitted in the building’s windows.
“I never said anything about signs inside of the building — you are welcome to do that. It has all become about the window,” he said, adding that with regard to meetings, there were instances of people going outside of the public space area they were supposed to be held in.
As a common retail space, he said that couldn’t be permitted.
As to the flag, Blackmore said it’s no different than having a Conservative Party sticker in the front window, or an NDP sticker, or a pro-choice sticker, or a Confederate sticker.
He said a business owner once put up an NDP sign in the window, and two customers came in to say they would never shop in the store again.
So the ‘no sign’ rule is across the board, he said,adding that his tenants have the right to ‘quiet comfort.’ “All of them,” he said.
“It’s all about maintaining a neutral spot that is welcoming to everyone, and that is safe to everyone,” he said, adding that he has been unfairly accused of bigotry and (being) anti-2SLGBTBQIA+.
“I have been attacked online and (at Riverbank Common),” he said.
“In the meantime, we have had people coming into the store shouting at staff, accusing them of being horrible people to the point that they don’t feel safe, and they wish to put a sign up on the door saying, ‘Please don’t abuse the staff in the store — we aren’t involved in this’,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Ponoka Pride Society said in a statement that the organization, “Stands firmly in support of Sarah’s Specialty Cakes after her landlord claimed she was in break of her lease for having a small pride flag in the window of her business, and for hosting supportive coffee meet-ups for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
“The PPS and our allies in Alberta and beyond want safety and belonging for everyone in our communities and we need to do better.”