Whipped into action by a strong autumn breeze, Lynne Reilly’s Canada flag billows out over the fence of her private back yard at her Willow Road townhouse condominium. In the view from her dining room window, the flag’s action is echoed by its double, flying atop the flag mast at Westwood Public School.
If the condo corporation gets its way, the Westwood school flag may be the only one Reilly will be able to see when she looks out her back window.
Reilly moved into the condo at the corner of Willow and Westwood roads in February, bringing her flag with her from her former home. She attached a small adjustable flagpole to the inside of her fence and let the flag fly.
A couple months later, she was told to take it down.
The condo’s rules do not allow anything to be attached to the “common elements,” such as the fence, said a notice she received in April from Sanderson Management Inc., the company that manages the property on behalf of the condominium corporation. Reilly was perplexed.
She was fairly certain this was not the case, as there was already a bracket attached to her fence when she moved in, and a walk around the condo complex revealed a number of other residents with items fastened to the fences – bird houses, hose reels, even another flag, said Reilly.
She called Sanderson Management and spoke to property manager Barbara McDougall.
“I was told, and I quote, ‘The condo corporation does not want to have the flag of every nation waving throughout the complex,’ ” said Reilly.
She answered that the flag is Canada’s flag and this is Canada, but was told it didn’t matter, she said.
She asked whether there had been a complaint about her flag. The answer was yes.
“Who the heck would complain about a Canadian flag?” Reilly said in an interview late last week.
It was a windy October day. Reilly’s flag was still flying over her back yard fence, but not because the condo corporation had a sudden attack of patriotism.
Reilly ignored the instruction to take down the flag, and now she is facing a legal battle of sorts.
“The issue for us is that Ms. Reilly has made a change to the common elements without prior approval,” said Robert Mullin, the lawyer who represents Wellington Condominium Corporation No. 21.
Fastening the flag to the fence without the approval of the board violates section 98 of the Condominium Act, he said in a telephone interview.
“There are no exceptions in that act,” he said.
Reilly believes there should be an exception – an inherent right of a Canadian to fly a Canada flag, she said.
In June, she took the issue to the condo’s annual general meeting.
But when it came time to speak, “I was told that forum was not the forum to discuss individual issues,” said Reilly.
Instead, she was told to address the issue in writing to the board of directors. She hand-delivered a letter to the board on the spot, she said.
She did not hear from the board. Instead, in August she received a registered letter from Mullin of Smith Valeriote Law Firm.
“A flagpole is an improvement to the common elements. The Board of Directors has not approved the installation of a flagpole. Had approval been sought prior to its erection, such approval would have been denied,” it read.
The letter told Reilly she had until Aug. 9 to take the flag down. She refused.
The law firm began the process to start mediation. “There is a civil process, and we will proceed with it,” Mullin told the Tribune.
Through a letter, which arrived in mid-September from the mediator chosen by the law firm, Reilly learned that it would cost her $847.50 for a half-day of mediation, plus $150 for each additional hour that it might take to resolve the dispute.
The condo corporation would pay the same – money that comes out of the fees that all condo owners, including Reilly, pay.
“It’s very regretful that we’re having to spend fees on this,” said Mullin.
But Reilly refused mediation, maintaining that “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
She says her nearest neighbours told her they don’t mind the flag, and she suspects others in the complex, if asked, would be OK with it also.
Mullin said there is no evidence this is the case.
“The overriding motivation for people to live in condos is consistency,” he said. “It’s a very inconsistent look,” he said of Reilly’s flag.
But for Reilly it’s about more than a look. “I cannot believe, in a country like the one we live in, we’re being told to take down a Canada flag,” she said.
In the most recent letter from Mullin, Reilly was warned that if she continues to resist mediation, the law firm will proceed to “binding arbitration.” Under that process, an independent third party will decide the outcome and both parties will have to abide by the decision.
Reilly is hoping for support from the greater community in her fight. She has create aYouTube video and an e-mail address ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) where she hopes people will send their positive feedback.