Bradford District High School (BDHS) student Carson Young says he was suspended from school last week after refusing to take down a thin blue line flag from his truck.
The thin blue line symbol is a black and white Canadian flag with a solid blue line running through it, symbolizing the line officers walk daily between life and death.
The symbol has become controversial over the past few years, more so in the United States, in light of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and talks of defunding police and redirecting funding to social services. Critics also argue the flag puts out an "us-versus-them" divisive mentality.
But he says the reason for flying the flag has nothing to do with politics, and more a show of support for his family, who all work in policing. He has had the flag flying on his truck since he obtained his G2 driver's licence and truck in June 2021.
The Grade 12 student says he has never been in trouble at school or suspended before. So he was shocked when, at the end of September, he claims the principal told him he had to take the flag down after receiving a complaint letter about it from someone at Nantyr Shores Secondary School in Innisfil during a school football game.
"He has a clean school record, he's a great student, he volunteers his time, he helps coaches other teams, he is really well-liked in the school," said Young's mother, Kim, who is a Barrie police officer and has even been a guest at the school to teach students about forensics.
After the initial complaint in September, the teen was asked to write a letter to the principal to explain his reasoning for flying the flag, which was then forwarded to the superintendent.
"The principal forwarded it on to the superintendent who never replied or responded to the email," explained Kim.
In his letter, Carson explains that the symbol is meaningful to him and his family who work in law enforcement.
Carson's father is a civilian volunteer member of the South Simcoe Police Services (SSP)'s auxiliary unit, his sister is also auxiliary officer with the service. His aunt works at the Ontario Provincial Police and his grandfather was also a 31-year-year veteran officer with Toronto Police Services.
"The flag shows support for these people in my life, as well as the other law enforcement officers who are in the 'line' of duty, and who 'walk the line' every day," he wrote in the letter. "They serve and protect not only our community but our country's safety and freedom."
Carson also participates in the Big Brothers and Sisters charity bowling event with SSP every year.
"Police and members of the law enforcement community have received a tremendous amount of hate during these pressing times of COVID-19 and BLM movements, but they are the ones protecting us when we need it the most," he wrote. "Police are the force that stand between law and order, and chaos. The force that safeguards society against irrationality."
Carson says he followed up with the principal numerous times to see if there was any response to his letter, but never heard back.
It wasn't until last Wednesday when he says the principal saw the flag on his truck and told him to remove it, which Young refused to do.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kim says she received a phone call from the school informing her that her son was being suspended for three days — Thursday, Friday and Monday — for "opposition of authority."
"We just don't understand why he was suspended," she said.
Both Carson and his mom had a resolution meeting on Sunday with the Simcoe County District School Board, including BDHS principal David Brooks and superintendent Dean Maltby, regarding the suspension. They said during the meeting the superintendent did not want to discuss the suspension or the reason behind it.
"They're saying that it's divisive and polarizing," Kim said.
"'Opposition to authority' is what is written on the suspension letter. But today they did not want to discuss the reason for it," she added. "They just said the flag is not permitted on school property and we'd like to fight for the inclusion of the blue line flag."
In October 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued a directive to all officers to eliminate wearing of the thin blue line patch.
"The RCMP has established symbols that are already approved for use and are widely recognized and honoured by our colleagues and the public. The 'Thin Blue Line' is not a symbol the RCMP can endorse for official use," said Robin Percival from RCMP media relations.
The local police services do not recognize the thin blue line symbol on their uniform.
"But here's a kid that just wants to support law enforcement and now that's been taken away without a written reason," said Kim. "Where is it written under what directive or procedure?"
Kim says she and her son have not received any answers as to where the directive from the school board is coming from and would like further explanation.
BradfordToday contacted BDHS principal David Brooks for comment for this story, but was redirected to contact the school board. The board did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Carson says he plans to take the flag down when he heads back to class Tuesday so he is able to continue his education.
"They told us that he would be trespassing and he would have to find alternate schooling" if he didn't take down the flag, explained Kim, who posted her frustrations about the situation on Facebook over the weekend. She received a lot of feedback from both supporters and opponents of the school's decision to suspend Carson.
Since the post, Carson has received a stack of thin blue line flags from those who disagree with the school board's decision to suspend him and will be handing them out Tuesday at 7 a.m. in the Canadian Tire parking lot in Bradford.
"We are going to distribute those flags.. and drive around the block to where the school is located and show the blue line flag and show our support, and then Carson is going to go back to school," said Kim.
"We just want the message out there that we should be supporting our local police, and he's supporting his family and that's the reason he is doing it," she added. "We want it to be positive, we want it to be respectful."
South Simcoe police say they are aware of tomorrow's potential protest.
"As a police service, we recognize the right to lawful, peaceful assembly and protest. The role of the South Simcoe Police Service is to keep the peace, enforce the law, and ensure the safety of our citizens and the community," read a statement on behalf of the organization.
Bradford West Gwillimbury Mayor Rob Keffer made a post on social media Tuesday afternoon acknowledging the planned protest and denouncing the use of the symbol.
"While 'thin blue line' was originally a term supportive of police services, over the past several years it has been co-opted by extremists and is now viewed by some as a symbol of opposition to the racial justice movement," he wrote.
"Regardless of the motivation for displaying the flag, we hope that this matter has become a learning opportunity for all involved," the mayor added. "Symbolism is a powerful tool. Over time, the thin blue line flag has taken on darker, negative connotations that have strayed considerably from its original message.
"We need to be sensitive to the fact that symbols like the thin blue line are now hurtful to many within our community and have no place here."