OTTAWA, TORONTO, MONTREAL—Thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across Canada on Sept. 20 to protest against the teaching of gender ideology in schools. Counter-protesters were also present, accusing the other side of spreading “hate.”
The national event, dubbed the “1 Million March for Children” was created in response to parents’ concerns about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) being taught in schools. The main website for the event lists its goals as eliminating the SOGI curriculum, pronouns, and mixed-gender bathrooms.
The protests come against a backdrop of changing policies in schools, as provinces like New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have begun to implement new guidelines that require parents to give consent if students under age 16 want to change their given names and pronouns at school. Before this, the schools could change a child's preferred names and pronouns without informing the parents.
Counter-protesters who gathered in opposition to the rallies say that they are attacks on the LGBT community. They also say New Brunswick and Saskatchewan’s policies are a violation of children's rights.
OttawaIn Ottawa, Wellington Street was closed in both directions as over a thousand people gathered on Parliament Hill and marched through the city’s streets under the watch of police. The crowd of protesters chanted “Leave the kids alone,” and “No more silence” as they marched up Bank Street.
Early in the day, counter-protesters numbering in the hundreds settled on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill and faced off against the protesters, carrying pride flags and signs that read “Refuse to be your kid’s first bully” and “Trans rights are human rights.” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP MPs Blake Desjarlais and Matthew Green were also part of the counter-protest group.
In a video conference between dozens of union organizers that was leaked earlier this week, organizers detailed their plans to disrupt the protest.
"We've seen where they're targeting and what they're doing, which is the insidious ways that they're saying that they are protecting children, and we know that, far from protecting children, this is actually an attack on children and on communities," said one of the organizers.
Many of the Canadians protesting against gender ideology come from ethnic and religious backgrounds, with Muslims having played an active role in the movement.
Elias, a Muslim father with several kids who withheld his last name for fear of being reprimanded by CUPE, told The Epoch Times that his “whole family” had stopped supporting the Liberals and NDP because of their support for gender ideology, as well as their lack of focus on economic issues. He claimed that many in the immigrant community feel a similar way.
“I'm just fed up. I just don't know how to put [it into] words anymore, because I just want my kids to grow up without being influenced by outside factors. I'm the parent—I should be able to raise them how I want,” he said.
Others who lived under communism also participated. Boriana Emillaie, who grew up in communist Bulgaria, said she was concerned about the direction Canada was taking when it came to freedom of expression.
“I'm worried about the little kids that are going to school and how the parents cannot say anything; they don't have the right to actually teach their kids the way they want,” she told The Epoch Times.
People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier took part in the protest for parental rights and made a pitch to Conservative Party supporters who want the issue to take more precedence, noting that Tory leader Pierre Poilievre was not in attendance.
“If you want to have real changes and you want a political party to work with you and protect your children, we are that political party,” he said.
Mr. Bernier said parental rights is a cause that unites “a lot of Canadians” and that it’s “the beginning of a quiet revolution.”
While Conservatives recently adopted resolutions at the party convention to limit access to transgender health care for minors and barr transgender Canadians from women’s spaces, the resolutions are non-binding and Mr. Poilievre has not said whether it would become party policy. Mr. Poilievre did not address the protest in any capacity.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to address the protests on platform X but did not refer to the event specifically, only saying that “transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia” have no place in Canada.
“We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued,” he said.
Later in the day, the Ottawa Police Service said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that two people had been arrested for “inciting hatred” at the protest, while another was arrested for “causing a disturbance.”
“Hate or bias-motivated crimes will be fully investigated,” they said.
TorontoIn Toronto, hundreds of protesters gathered in Queen’s Park while facing off against counter-protesters. Over a loudspeaker, a man declared to the crowd that “a boy cannot become a girl, a girl cannot become a boy.”
Scott Spidle, one of the organizers of the protest, said that 100 similar events were taking place across the country, from “Newfoundland to the Yukon.”
“The sexually explicit material that's being provided to the kids in the classrooms, it's extremely inappropriate, I mean, it goes far beyond anything that's academic,” he said.
John, a protester who declined to give his last name due to his involvement on a school board, retired as a teacher eight years ago. He says he left on the cusp of the transgender movement gaining more ground in education and noticed how it changed the power dynamics in the classroom.
“[We] were being compelled to acknowledge [the] student’s truth and ignore our objective truth as we understood it. And what I noticed immediately, is that it entirely changed the relationship between the teacher and the student,” he said.
Zess Pedias, who formerly ran as a delegate for the Liberal Party, participated in the Toronto protest with a sign that read “Let kids stay kids.” He told The Epoch Times he is against “governments telling us what we should be doing to our children.”
“We're here to teach our kids our moral values, and to interfere with our moral values is overstepping the line,” he said.
At one point, a group of counter-protesters partially surrounded those supporting parental rights, with police officers on bicycles separating the two sides. There were no outbreaks of violence, with both sides remaining relatively calm.
Police officers mounted on horses stood by the protesters, but as in Ottawa, they were not deployed against the groups.
The protesters then began marching through the city, yelling slogans like “Leave our kids alone.” The counter-protesters did not follow the group.
James Reiger, who was part of the counter-protest, said he came to the event because “we're being attacked for having any recognition being taught in school about gays, lesbians, trans, anything to do with the LGBTQ2S+.”
Toronto police said it made one arrest with regard to the demonstration. A 47-year-old woman was charged with possession of a weapon and carrying a weapon while attending a public meeting. Police didn't provide the nature of the weapon nor the affiliation of the individual.
MontrealIn Montreal, protesters and counter-protesters faced off while police officers stood between the two groups. Muslim children were seen holding signs saying “Parents know best” and “I belong to my parents.”
Michelle Layne told The Epoch Times she was protesting against gender ideology because “God made two genders.”
“It’s not the government’s job to dictate to parents. It’s the parent’s job to decide to raise their children the way God originally intended for them to,” she said. “We have a responsibility to stand up and say ‘no, it’s not going to happen.’”
Sophie Archambault said she was at the protest to say that “kids have to stay kids.”
“What I want is for the government to teach our kids to love each other, to have healthy relationships, to wait until the kids are grown up and their identity is formed to know that their identity can be something else than the biological male and female,” Ms. Archambault told The Epoch Times.
Months of ProtestsTensions between the groups in support of and against gender ideology have been building throughout 2023, with online arguments at times expanding into in-person confrontations.
Back in June, during Pride Month, hundreds of people rallied near schools in Ottawa’s west end to protest against gender ideology, in a protest led by B.C. resident Chris Elston, who goes by the monicker Billboard Chris, and student activist Josh Alexander—who late last year organized a protest over the use of washrooms based on gender identity at a high school in Renfrew, Ont.
In response to those demonstrators, a counter-protest was organized by the group Community Solidarity Ottawa, which was formed following the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa. The face-off between the two groups at times turned violent, with scuffles breaking out.
Later that month Muslim families led a protest against gender ideology at the headquarters of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, and dozens of students from Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Ottawa staged a walkout citing similar concerns.
The issue came to a head after New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced changes to Policy 713, an education policy meant to protect transgender students. The changes would require that parents give permission for kids under 16 years of age have teachers use their preferred names and pronouns.
While the policy change was criticized by some, including some cabinet ministers in Mr. Higgs own party, the province of Saskatchewan announced a similar policy in late August. An Angus Reid poll from the same month found that 78 percent of Canadians believe parents should be informed if their children choose to change their gender identity or pronouns.
Andrew Chen contributed to this report.