Canadian Flag Etiquette
Flags are symbols that identify people belonging to a group. The National Flag of Canada and the flags of the provinces and territories are symbols of honour and pride for all Canadians. They should be treated with respect.
The manner in which flags may be displayed in Canada is not governed by any legislation but by established practice. The etiquette outlined herein is an adaptation of international usage and of customs the federal government has been observing for many years.
The rules applied by the federal government are in no way mandatory for individuals or organizations; they may serve as guidelines for all persons who wish to display the Canadian Flag and other flags in Canada.
Early in 1964, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, informed the House of Commons of the government's desire to adopt a distinctive national flag for Canada. He personally proposed a flag with three red maple leaves between two blue borders. After reviewing the hundreds of designs submitted by experts and other Canadians, the Senate and House of Commons Committee, which had been established by the government to consider the flag proposal, set about classifying the designs.
The Committee, after having eliminated various designs, was left with only three: a Red Ensign with the fleur-de-lis and the Royal Union Flag (Union Jack), the three-leaf design, and a single red maple leaf on a white square on a red flag. The single-leaf design was adopted unanimously by the Committee on October 29, 1964. It was proclaimed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on January 28, 1965, and was inaugurated on February 15, 1965, at an official ceremony held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in the presence of the Governor General, His Excellency General the Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier, the Prime Minister, the members of the Cabinet, and Canadian parliamentarians.
These words, spoken on that momentous day by the Honourable Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate, added deeper meaning to the occasion: "The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion."
When describing the details of a flag, it is assumed that the flag is flying from a staff with the flag flying towards the right as seen by the observer.
Canton The place of honour in a flag is the upper half of the hoist. It is also called the First Quarter and sometimes the Upper Hoist.
Fly The half of a flag farthest from the halyard; also a synonym for length.
Fourth Quarter The lower half of the fly.
Halyard The rope which raises or lowers a flag.
Hoist The half of a flag nearest to the halyard; also a synonym for width.
Second Quarter The upper half of the fly
Third Quarter The lower half of the hoist; it is also called the Lower Hoist.
Description and Dimensions of the National Flag The National Flag of Canada is a red flag of the proportions two by length and one by width, containing in its centre a white square the width of the flag, with a single red maple leaf centered therein.
Colours The colours red and white are the same as those that were used in the Canada Red ensign and are found in the Union Jack. Red and white are Canada's official colours and, with the maple leaf, are the symbolic elements found in the Canadian flag.
Heraldic description The heraldic description is: gules (red) on a Canadian pale argent (white) a maple leaf of the first.
Rules for Flying the Flag
Dignity of the Flag
The National Flag of Canada should be displayed only in a manner befitting the national emblem; it should not be subjected to indignity or displayed in a position inferior to any other flag or ensign. The National Flag always takes precedence over all other national flags when flown in Canada. The only flags to which precedence is given over the Canadian flag are the personal standards of members of the Royal Family and of Her Majesty's representatives in Canada. The National Flag should always be flown aloft and free.
It is improper to use the National Flag of Canada as a table or seat cover or as a masking for boxes, barriers, or intervening space between floor and ground level on a dais or platform.
While it is not technically incorrect to use the National Flag of Canada to cover a statue, monument or plaque for an unveiling ceremony, it is not common practice to do so and should be discouraged.
When the National Flag of Canada is raised or lowered, or when it is carried past in a parade or review, all present should face the flag, men should remove their hats, and all should remain silent. Those in uniform should salute.
Displaying the Flag
The National Flag is flown at all federal government buildings, airports, and military bases and establishments within and outside Canada. The flag may be flown by night as well as by day.
The National Flag of Canada may be displayed as follows:
Flat against a surface, horizontally and vertically.
If hung horizontally, the upper part of the leaf should be up and the stem down. If hung vertically, the flag should be placed so that the upper part of the leaf is to the left and the stem is to the right as seen by spectators. Flags hung vertically should be hung so that the canton is in the upper left corner.
On a staff
The top left (first) quarter or canton should be placed in the position nearest the top of the staff. When carried, the flag should be aloft and free.
On a flag rope (halyard)
The canton should be placed uppermost, raised as closely as possible to the top with the flag rope tight.
Suspended vertically in the middle of a street
The upper part of the leaf should face the north in an east-west street, and face east in a north-south street, thus being on the left of the observer facing east or south respectively.
Projected from a building
Displayed horizontally or at an angle from a window or balcony, the canton must point outward.
Affixed on a motor vehicle
The flag must be on a pole firmly fixed to the chassis on the front right.
Sharing the same base
When only three flags are displayed, the National Flag should be at the centre. For those facing the display, the flag of the country being honoured or given prominence is placed to the left of centre, and the other to the right.
When used to cover a casket at funerals
The canton should be draped over the upper left corner of the casket. The flag should be removed before the casket is lowered into the grave or, at a crematorium, after the service. The flag size should be 4 1/2 X 9 feet (1.40 X 2.80m).
Position of Honour
Due consideration should be given to flag etiquette and precedence whenever the National Flag of Canada or other sovereign national flag or provincial/territorial flag is displayed. If a purely decorative effect is desired without the involvement of precedence, it is better to confine the display to flags of lesser status; for example, house flags, pennants or coloured buntings.
When the National Flag of Canada is flown alone on top of or in front of a building where there are two flagpoles, it should be flown on the flagpole to the left of the observers facing the flag.
When the National Flag of Canada is flown alone on top of or in front of a building where there are more than two flagpoles, it should be flown as near as possible to the centre.
When the National Flag of Canada is displayed in the church or on a speaker's platform, it should be against the wall, or on a staff on the celebrant's or speaker's right as he/she faces the audience.
When used in the body of a church or auditorium the National Flag of Canada should be to the right of the congregation or spectators
With flags of sovereign nations
The National Flag of Canada, when flown or paraded, takes precedence over all other national flags. When flown with the flags of other sovereign nations, all flags should be flown on separate staffs and at the same height, all being of the same size, with the National Flag of Canada occupying the position of honour.
The National Flag should be raised first and lowered last, unless the number of flags permits their being raised and lowered simultaneously.
With the flag of one other nation, the National Flag of Canada should be on the left of the observer facing the flags; both should be at the same height.
When crossed with a flag of another sovereign nation, the National Flag of Canada should be on the left of the observer facing the flags; the staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
In a line of flags representing three flags, the National Flag of Canada should be in the centre. The other two flags should, in alphabetical order, be placed to the left and right of the National Flag, from the point of view of the observer facing the three staffs.
When there are more than three staffs, the National Flag of Canada should be flown on the left of the observer facing the flags, followed by the flags representing the other sovereign nations ordered alphabetically. An additional National Flag of Canada may be flown at the end of the line.
In a semi-circle of flags representing a number of sovereign nations, the National Flag of Canada should be in the centre.
In an enclosed circle of flags representing a number of sovereign nations, the National Flag of Canada should be flown on the flagpole immediately opposite the main entrance to a building or arena.
With flags of sovereign nations, provinces/territories, international organizations, cities, companies, etc.
The National Flag of Canada, when flown with different kinds of flags, should be flown on the left of a person facing the flags. The position of the other flags is by order of importance (alphabetical order for flags of sovereign nations in the official language of the country).
When displayed with a flag of another sovereign nation, a provincial/territorial flag, a company flag or club pennants on a flagpole fitted with a yardarm or a gaff, the National Flag of Canada is positioned as follows. (Figure 18):
With flags of the Canadian provinces and territories
When provincial and territorial flags are flown with the National Flag of Canada, the order is based on precedence, which is determined by the date of entry into Confederation of the provinces and the territories. Following the Canadian flag, the sequence is as follows:
Display along a wall
An additional National Flag of Canada may be displayed at the end of the line if desired.
Nova Scotia (1867)
New Brunswick (1867)
British Columbia (1871) 8. Prince Edward Island (1873)
Northwest Territories (1870)
|Display flanking an entrance
|"V" display for visual effect
Carried in a procession
If carried with other flags, in a single file, the National Flag of Canada should always lead.
If carried in line abreast, it is preferable to have the National Flag of Canada at each end of the line
If only one National Flag of Canada is available, it should be placed in the centre of the line of flags carried abreast.
When the number of flags is even and the National Flag of Canada cannot be carried in the centre (of a line of flags abreast), it should be carried on the right-hand end of the line facing the direction of movement.
Note: It is suggested that the pole or pike used to carry flags be 7 or 8 feet (2.10 to 2.40m in length).
Flown on ships and boats
The National Flag of Canada is the proper national colours for all Canadian ships and boats, including pleasure craft. The Canadian Shipping Act states that a Canadian ship shall hoist the flag on a signal being made to her by one of Her Majesty's Canadian ships, or any ship in the service of and belonging to the Government of Canada; on entering or leaving any foreign port; and if of 50 tonnes gross tonnage or upwards, on entering or leaving any Commonwealth port.
Foreign vessels may fly the Canadian flag as a "courtesy flag" when they are berthed in a Canadian port. The flag then is customarily flown from the foremast.
General rules governing merchant vessels and pleasure craft are as follow:
- the flag should be worn in harbour and in territorial waters but need not be worn while under way on the high seas unless the vessel wishes to identify her nationality to another ship;
- whenever possible, the proper place for a vessel to display the national colours is at the stern, except that when at sea, the flag may be flown from a gaff;
- when in harbour the flag should be hoisted at 0800 hours and lowered at sunset;
- when a merchant ship and a warship of any nationality pass or overtake one another, the merchant ship should dip the flag as a gesture of courtesy. If on a staff, the lowest corner of the flag should be brought to the level of the rail and kept there until the salutation is acknowledged by the naval vessel. If flown from a gaff, the flag should be lowered to six feet (1.80m) above the level of the deck, until the salute is acknowledged;
- in times of mourning, the flag may be flown at half-mast, which places the upper corner of the flag next to the staff at approximately three-quarters of full-hoist. As on land, a flag hoisted to or lowered from half-mast position must first be hauled close-up.
Half-masting for Mourning
Flags are flown at the half-mast position as a sign of mourning.
The flag is brought to the half-mast position by first raising it to the top of the mast then immediately lowering it slowly to the half-mast position.
The position of the flag when flying at half-mast will depend on the size of the flag and the length of the flagstaff. It must be lowered at least to a position recognizably "half-mast" to avoid the appearance of a flag which has accidentally fallen away from the top of the mast owing to a loose flag rope. A satisfactory position for half-masting is to place the centre of the flag exactly half-way down the staff.
On occasions requiring that one flag be flown at half-mast, all flags flown together should also be flown at half-mast. Flags will only be half-masted on those flagpoles fitted with halyards and pulleys. Some buildings fly flags from horizontal or angled poles, without halyards, to which flags are permanently attached. Flags on these will not be half-masted.
Flags on federal government buildings, airports, military bases and other establishments are flown at half-mast when directed by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The following are examples of the practice:
- across Canada and abroad, on the death of the Sovereign or a member of the Royal Family related in the first degree to the Sovereign (spouse, son or daughter, father, mother, brother or sister), the Governor General, the Prime Minister, a former governor general, a former prime minister, or a federal cabinet minister;
- within a province, on the death of the Lieutenant Governor, the Premier or another person similarly honoured by that province;
- within his/her own riding, on the death of the Member of the House of Commons, or the Member of the Provincial/Territorial Legislature;
- at his/her place of residence, on the death of a Senator, a Canadian Privy Councillor, or a Mayor.
Apart from occasions when flags on all government buildings and establishments across Canada are flown at half-mast, the flag on the Peace Tower of the Parliament Building at Ottawa is flown at half-mast:
- on the death of a Lieutenant Governor;
- on the death of a Canadian Privy Councillor, a Senator, or a Member of the House of Commons;
- on the death of a person whom it is desired to honour.
"Death" may be taken to include the day of death and up to and including the day of the funeral.
The flag on the Peace Tower and flags at the Lester B. Pearson Building (headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) are flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset the day of the funeral of a foreign Head of State, a Head of Government of a Commonwealth country, or a Head of Mission accredited to Canada who dies while in office at Ottawa. [see web page on specialty poles]
Flags at federal government buildings and other locations are also half-masted subject to special instructions on the death of members of the Royal Family other than those related in the first degree to the Sovereign, a Head of a Foreign State, or some other person whom it is desired to honour.
During periods of half-masting, the flag is raised to full- mast on all federal government buildings, airports, and military bases and establishments on statutory holidays, and also on the Peace Tower while a Head of State is visiting Parliament Hill. These procedures do not apply while flags are half-masted for the death of the Sovereign when they are only raised to full-mast for the day on which the accession of the new Monarch is proclaimed.
On Remembrance Day, November 11, the flag is flown at half- mast from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon on the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings.
Advertising and Commercial Purposes
The Trade Marks Act protects the National Flag of Canada and the flags of the provinces and territories against unauthorized use. Requests to use the Canadian flag in connection with business activities should be addressed to the Department of Canadian Heritage (attention: Canadian Identity Directorate). Requests to use the provincial or territorial flags should be addressed to the Protocol Office of the province or territory concerned. A flag should always be shown, represented or used in a dignified manner. It should not be defaced by way of printing or figures or masked by other objects, but displayed in a manner which may be described as aloft and free, in which all symbolic parts of the flag can be identified.
Disposal of Flags
When a flag becomes tattered and is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be destroyed in a dignified way by burning it privately.