Hundreds of people rallied against what an organizer called “gender ideology” near three west-end Ottawa schools Friday, as hundreds more joined a counter-protest in support of transgender rights.
Police arrested five people in connection with the protests but wouldn’t share more information about why.
The protest against gender identity being taught in schools was organized by activist Chris Elston, while community groups Horizon Ottawa and Community Solidarity Ottawa mobilized the counter-protest.
Police closed a stretch of Broadview Avenue in Westboro between Carling Avenue and Tillbury Avenue and divided the crowd into several groups along the street.
Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden said on Twitter that he was punched while counter-protesting.
“I’ll take a punch for queer and trans youth any day,” he said.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a tweet that he’s proud of Harden, and that LGBTQ people, including kids, are being targeted by what he called “angry and hateful extremists.”
“Governments must step up to protect the queer and trans community,”
Notre Dame High School is located on the section of the street closed by police, and Broadview Avenue Public School and Nepean High School are located another block away.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board urged the protesters to move their demonstrations away from the schools.
“Adults should never make children and youth feel threatened or intimidated. Protests that are intended to provoke students, staff, families and/or community members to generate attention or social media traffic are completely unacceptable,” the board said in a press release ahead of the planned protest.
Alex Silas, PSAC’s regional executive vice-president for the National Capital Region, said he’s concerned about Elston planning a demonstration near schools.
“It really raises doubts about a group that, I think it goes without saying, but it’s a group that is literally targeting children,” said Silas.
Elston, also known as Billboard Chris, is from British Columbia and has been taking his views against the teaching of gender identity in schools on a tour across North America.
Emily Quail, an organizer of the counter-protest and mother of a child at Broadview Avenue Public School, said the support from the community in the counter-protest “fills my heart,” and that sticking up for transgender rights is more important than ever amid a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate.
“There is no acceptable place for this and the only way to correctly counter fascism is by showing up like this on the street and telling them (that) we outnumber them,” said Quail.
“We will not let them spread their transphobic, fascist ideology anywhere, here or anywhere else, and that starts with community strength and that’s what I’m really proud to see today.”
Neighbourhood resident Tris Harrison said he has two kids who attend Broadview Avenue Public School, one in kindergarten and another in Grade 2.
Harrison said while he respects protesters’ democratic rights, the demonstrations are unfair and disruptive to the children in nearby schools.
“I don’t want my (kids’) school used as a prop,” he said.
“Is this fair to a seven-year-old?”