A rainbow flag raised in support of gay rights will continue to fly at city hall for the duration of the Olympics despite Mayor Rob Ford publicly stating his opposition to the move.

“This is about Olympics, this is about being patriotic to your country; This is not about someone’s sexual preference,” Ford said when reporters asked him whether he supports the flag Friday afternoon. “No, I do not agree with putting up the rainbow flag. We should put our Canadian flag up. I put my Canadian flag up in the window.”

Ford added that he would contact the city manager to have the flag removed.

However a city spokesperson confirmed to CP24 later Friday that the flag was raised in accordance with a city policy approved by council and Ford does not have the authority to remove the flag on his own.

The flag was raised Friday as an act of support for the gay community as the Olympic Games got underway in Sochi, Russia – a country that has been heavily criticized for its policies on gay rights.

The symbolic gesture was made at the request of the 519 Community Centre – an organization that supports gay rights in the city and which has standing to request its flag be flown at city hall.

Within hours of his comments, Ford appeared to be backtracking, with Coun. Anthony Perruzza telling reporters he had spoken with Ford and convinced the mayor to drop his opposition.

But leaving his office Friday evening, Ford reiterated that he wants the flag taken down and told reporters that he will make a formal request for that to happen.

The 519 Community Centre responded to Ford’s comments in a press release Friday, saying they are consistent with other comments and actions the mayor has taken in the past.

“We believe that this issue has grown beyond any one off-handed naïve or willful homophobic or transphobic remark,” the group wrote in a statement.

The organization pointed to Ford’s repeated refusal to attend gay pride festivities in the city as mayor and his insistence earlier this week that he will not attend WolrdPride festivities in Toronto this coming June, an event expected to attract about 2 million people to the city.

The group also accused Ford of using gay issues to try and win favour with his support base for the upcoming election.

“The 519 strongly believes that homophobia and transphobia whether direct or inferred, have no place in political discourse and should never be used as a tactic to secure electoral votes,” the group said.

Responding to the mayor’s comments earlier Friday, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said he sees no contradiction between the Canadian and the rainbow flags.

“I think it shows the City of Toronto includes all the communities and residents of the city in its embrace,” Kelly told reporters at city hall. “It also is a statement that we’re not afraid to stand up for the rights and privileges that are being abused in other parts of the world. So there’s nothing un-Canadian about that.”

A number of cities in Canada have raised the rainbow flag in order to highlight the suppression of gay rights in Russia as that country hosts the Olympics.

Ford speaks with police

Meanwhile, two police officers were seen going into the mayor’s office shortly before 3 p.m. Friday.

Ford’s staff told reporters the officers were there because of a threat made to the mayor and his family.

Neither police nor the mayor’s office has described the nature of the threat or said where it came from.

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