Trans-friendly counter-protesters stand up to activist outside Ottawa schools
Hundreds of trans-friendly counter-protesters gathered near three schools in Ottawa's west end to take a stand against a B.C. man who was protesting what he calls "gender ideology" and gender identity being taught in schools.
Ottawa police arrested five people during the five-hour protest on Broadview Avenue Friday, with police stepping in several times to form a line to separate the protesters and counter-protesters.
Chris Elston organized a rally dubbed "Education over Indoctrination", protesting against puberty blockers for children who identify as transgender and what he calls "gender ideology" – the idea that children can be born into the wrong body. Elston does not believe gender identity should be taught in schools.
"We have all these kids being taught a far-left political ideology in schools that there’s such a thing as being born in the wrong body," Elston told CTV News Ottawa. "There’s no such thing as being born wrong."
Elston, wearing a sign saying 'Children cannot consent to puberty blockers', was joined by approximately 100 supporters, including student activist Josh Alexander, who organized a protest in the fall over the use of the gendered washrooms at St. Joseph's Catholic High School in Renfrew. Some of his supporters wore hats with the slogan, 'Save Canada.'
Photos from The Canadian Press showed young people stepping on Pride flags that were placed on the road during the protest.
Children step on Pride flags during a protest against Pride in Ottawa, Friday, June 9, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
To counter the protest, Community Solidarity Ottawa, Horizon Ottawa, community groups, parents and residents organized a counter-protest to "drown out hate." Hundreds of people, including MPP Joel Harden and Coun. Ariel Troster, attended the rally.
"It's important for the community to send a clear message that hate has no place in our community here in Ottawa," Toby Whitfield, Capital Pride executive director, said. "This transphobic, homophobic message that folks are trying to show today, they have absolutely no place."
Harden posted a photo on social media saying he was punched in the face during the protest.
"I’ll take a punch for queer and trans youth any day," Harden said on Twitter.
Participants in the counter-protest held signs saying, "Pride Not Prejudice", "Protect trans youth" and "Hate does not belong here."
"We're here to protect trans kids. They're trying to take away their autonomy, trying to take away their lives, their happiness and there's power in numbers and we need to be here and we need to protect these kids and let them live as who they are," Yannick Layton said.
Former Ottawa councillor Catherine McKenney told CTV News Ottawa, "It's very difficult to see the amount of hatred against trans kinds, especially in front of a school."
"But we have seen the growing hatred towards the LGBTQ community on the rise."
Protesters from the far-right group 'Save Canada' hold their hats in the air after singing the Canadian national anthem during a protest between Pride supporters and counter-protestors near schools in the Ottawa's west end on Friday, June 9, 2023. (Spencer Colby/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Mayor Mark Sutcliffe released a statement on Twitter Friday evening, saying, "hatred has no place anywhere in our city."
"Ottawa's transgender and 2SLGBTQ+ community members need and deserve our support. And schools should be a safe space for children to learn and develop, not a target for political protests," Sutcliffe said.
"Protests like the one today on Broadview should not be allowed to disrupt children and their education."
The Ottawa Carleton District School Board issued a statement about the protest outside the school, but did not say Elston's name.
"Today, schools on Broadview Avenue were disrupted by an individual who travels around the world targeting schools and disrupting student learning," the OCDSB said Friday afternoon.
"Schools are places of learning and should not be the target of political protests."
The board says students at Broadview Public School and Nepean High School were kept away from protests and generally stayed inside through the day.
"The OCDSB would like to acknowledge the support of the community. We appreciate the numerous positive messages of kindness and inclusivity towards 2SLGBTQ+ students and staff," the board said.
"Hate is not welcome here. To 2SLGBTQ+ students, staff, and community members, please know you belong and deserve to feel welcome and accepted to be who you are."
A person wears a local school district Pride shirt while counter-protesting a protest against Pride in Ottawa, Friday, June 9, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ottawa police said the protest required a "significant police presence", and officers were in contact with nearby schools to ensure the safety of students and staff.
"Some demonstrators became disruptive and aggressive with officers. As of 4 p.m., five individuals had been arrested. Investigations remain ongoing," police said.
"It is the role of the police to keep the peace, uphold community safety, enforce laws and allow for lawful demonstrations. As with any event, officers have gathered evidence and will follow up on any criminal incidents, including Hate Crimes."
Chris Elston, centre, also called "Billboard Chris" carries a billboard surrounded by supporters during a protest against Pride in Ottawa, Friday, June 9, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Elston first made headlines in September 2020 when he paid for a billboard that read “I Heart JK Rowling” in support of the Harry Potter author’s views on gender identity.
Elston was greeted by counter-protesters when he held a protest on Broadview Avenue back in October 2021.
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