norwich ontario closed sundays

This controversial Ontario town near Toronto completely closes down on Sundays

There is a certain laid-back charm about many small towns in Ontario that make them the perfect place for a quick getaway from the city.

Whether you're looking to get closer to nature, eat and drink to your heart's content, visit some new museums and galleries or simply roam a picturesque new place, there are countless options of places to visit that are just a short drive from Toronto.

While Norwich, Ontario may not be on many must-visit lists, it is a community that people are talking about a lot lately, but not for good reasons.

The 11,000-person settlement — which is less than two hours southwest of downtown, near Brantford — has been making headlines in recent weeks for a new bylaw that bans pride flags from being flown on township property or on streetlight poles.

The municipality also voted against recognizing June as Pride Month.

"Whether flown together or apart, these [government] flags are all we need to represent the diverse and multicultural citizenship in Norwich Township," the councillor who introduced the bylaw said during discussions on the subject. "To open the door to flying flags that represent any particular group, organization, or ideology, will only divide rather than unite."

Pride flags previously flown in the town were defaced and stolen last year by a man from a nearby town.

Since the contentious bylaw was passed this week, one councillor who voted against it has actually resigned, stating that she refuses to participate in the council's "blatant discrimination."

Apparently, the flag debate is one part of a bigger story about how the town continues to be influenced by the local church, the The Netherlands Reformed Congregation.

Residents told the Canadian Press earlier this month about how the town completely shuts down for a Christian day of rest on Sundays, and that the church's minister has personally visited businesses to ensure they stay close for the day.

"I know people that have tried to open businesses and be open on a Sunday and they've been visited by the minister saying, 'If you stay open on Sunday, you'll be out of business,'" one Norwicher told the outlet.

Another said that church members refuse to patronize any business that defies the unofficial rule.

When questioned on the topic, a spokesperson at the Township of Norwich confirmed to blogTO that they "would say yes," most if not all businesses in the town remain closed for the duration of every Sunday.

"A few may be open, but I couldn’t say off the top of my head which ones," she added.

In the wake of both the pride flag decision and the town's (many would argue outdated) Sunday rule, some Ontarians are expressing concern about the power the church wields in the town, finding it to be problematic.

As Hemant Mehta, author of the newsletter Friendly Athiest wrote this month, "Christians don’t run the government but they have enough social power to get what they want."

He points that since the Canadian Lord's Day Act was shed in 1985 and the provincial Retail Business Holiday act done away with in the 1990s,  individual municipalities now decide how Sunday commerce works.

"In Norwich, the influence of one powerful church has basically shut down the economy on Sundays. It’s not that the law requires businesses to close on Sundays or that church members refuse to spend any money that day. It’s far more sinister than that... it's a Jesus-based threat."

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