REGINA – Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says he meant no offence by tweeting a photo of a “Dukes of Hazzard”-inspired car with the Confederate flag.
Moe says he just wanted to promote the charitable work of the small village north of Saskatoon that will auction off a replica of the General Lee this Saturday.
The proceeds are dedicated to the Saskatchewan division of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The premier’s tweet early Monday elicited a flurry of complaints from people pointing out that the red, white and blue stars-and-bars have become widely associated with racism and white supremacy.
Moe says he doesn’t endorse the flag or what it symbolizes, but he does support the Parkside Community Club’s hard work raising funds for local organizations.
Meanwhile, the mental health association is distancing itself from the auction with a five-minute video posted to Twitter and Facebook.
Derby spokesman Kerry Peterson said organizers merely sought an authentic replica of the General Lee and did not mean to offend. He said last year’s auction featured a replica of Lightning McQueen from the “Cars” movies and the one before that had a car inspired by the Joker from Batman.
But it was the premier who took much of the heat on Twitter with his post, which featured two photos of the distinctive vehicle from the ’80s show – about two joy-riding cousins from Georgia who routinely sent their 1969 Dodge Charger airborne while evading the sheriff.
One photo displays the words “Canadian Mental Health Saskatchewan” in large capital letters on the trunk, just below the contentious flag.
“Mr. Premier, you need to be leading the charge against racism. This isn’t leading anyone the right way,” wrote Twitter user ?mathew6cc.
Moe addressed the flap in an emailed statement Tuesday.
“I shared these photos to support the Parkside Community Club’s longstanding effort to raise funds for local organizations, charities and families as well as to support the work of the Canadian Mental Health Association – Saskatchewan Division,” Moe said.
“In doing so, it was certainly not my intention to offend anyone or to endorse the Confederate flag and what it symbolizes.”
Phyllis O’Connor, executive director of the CMHA in Saskatchewan, said she only learned of the auction through the premier’s tweet.
“We rely very heavily on community support and that’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “The problem was they didn’t come to us and tell us they were doing this and we certainly had no input into the theme. “One of our core values is inclusion. There is no room for racism, discrimination, hatred, none of that.”
Peterson, who serves as the public announcer at the smash-and-crash event, said the annual tradition of auctioning off an iconic car began three years ago.
Local merchants and car experts donate parts and labour to build a theme car that will draw top dollar, he said, noting this replica was fashioned out of a ’71 Chrysler Newport.
“We want to do our part to help contribute and we weren’t looking to offend anybody,” said Peterson, dismissing any suggestion the car could be made without the flag. “We were just decorating our car.”
He said the winning bidder could paint over the flag, but noted the car won’t be around long because it’s to be entered in the demolition derby where it would likely be destroyed.
O’Connor said she was in talks with the event organizers and “could live with it” if the reference to the association was removed from the trunk before Saturday.
“We don’t want to seem ungrateful for the hard work and energy that that little community put into supporting us,” she added. “It came from a good place.”