'An attack on their autonomy’ or safeguarding kids?: What happened at '1 Million March' and counter-protests across Canada

LGBTQ2S+ advocates say the demonstrations are a violation of human rights, targeting queer and trans students

'An attack on their autonomy’ or safeguarding kids?: What happened at '1 Million March' and counter-protests across Canada

Hundreds of demonstrators across Canada took to the streets to protest LGBTQ2S+ inclusive education in school curriculums and they were met with thousands of counter-protesters advocating for the rights of queer people.

Organized by “Hands Off Our Children” and Family Freedom, the “1 Million March 4 Children” is an active protest against the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculums in Canadian schools. On their websites, the groups say the march will “safeguard children from gender ideology teachings, sexual indoctrination, exposure to explicit sexual content, ensuring that parental consent remains paramount.”

Yet, LGBTQ2S+ advocates say the demonstrations are a violation of human rights, targeting queer and trans students.

Why counter the ‘1 Million March for Children’ across Canada? Because these protests seek to import hateful ideas from abroad. Because these protests were never for ‘children.’ They’re instead an attack on their autonomy on the principle of the ‘child’s best interests.’ Because these protests seek to eliminate altogether the idea of ‘trans kids’, further dehumanizing this incredibly vulnerable community. Because trans and 2SLBGTQ+ people, just like everyone else, deserve safety and dignity.Celeste Trianon, a Transfeminist jurist and activist

The Hands Off Our Children website describes itself as a movement that embraces principles of human dignity, freedom of thought, and religious freedoms. “Our mission includes safeguarding children’s rights, nurturing their growth in a safe environment, and promoting critical thinking through quality education.”

Yet, online, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network described Hands Off Our Children and Family Freedom as groups hiding behind the illusion that they are just trying to protect children.

“These protests are supported by a big tent of far-right and conspiratorial groups, including Christian Nationalists, conservative Muslims, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, sovereign citizens, anti-public education activists, and more,” the Canadian Anti-Hate Network tweeted.

It’s a belief that the Elementary Teachers of Toronto and Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are echoing.

“We want to make it unequivocally clear that TDSB stands with our trans, Two-Spirit and non-binary students, staff and families, and we support everyone's human rights and expression of gender.

Harassment, discrimination and hate have no place in TDSB. In our schools, we do not tell students who they should be, but welcome them as they are,” the TDSB wrote in a statement.

Gender identity debated in schools across provinces

In recent weeks, gender-identity in schools has been a focus after Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he believes “parents must be fully involved” if their child chooses to use a different pronoun at school.

“Often there are health implications, and we have to respect the rights of parents and recognize that these can be life-changing decisions,” Lecce said at a press conference on Aug. 28th when he was outlining the changes students and parents can expect for the new school year.

I think parents want to be involved so that they can support their kids. And I think that’s a really important principle that we must uphold.Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, Ontario

This came shortly after Saskatchewan's education minister said that teachers must start seeking parental consent when children under 16 want to change their names or pronouns – which was protested by LGBTQ2S+ students.

“Parental rights are not absolute. They exist because parents have a statutory duty of care towards their children, and must act in their best interests. They do not own their kids!” wrote activist Trianon online.

“Denying your child the right to a complete education, and forcibly controlling their identity at their expense, will do nothing but hurt them for life,” Trianon continued in a statement posted on Instagram.

In New Brunswick, more than 400 protesters marched, waving signs saying, “Let kids be kids” and “Parents’ rights matter.” They’re protesting the province’s Policy 713 which was first introduced in August 2020 and outlines minimum requirements for a safe environment for LGBTQ2S+ students.

Recent changes to the policy by New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government means it’s no longer mandatory for teachers to use the preferred pronouns or names of transgender or non-binary students under the age of 16. The teacher would have to get parental consent and any student refusing parental involvement would be referred to the school psychologist or social worker to develop a plan to inform their parents.

As more videos and images emerge of the high-tension faceoffs happening across the country, legal experts are weighing in, publicly reminding protesters and school boards that the law trumps all.

“Educational institutions must comply with the legal standards set by provincial and federal laws, including the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms where applicable. Our concern is that educational institutions, including but not limited to Ontario’s public schools, continue to meet their obligations under Ontario’s human rights code to ensure they are discrimination free environments. Ontario school boards are required to comply with existing laws that protect the human rights of all students, including queer and trans students. This requires ensuring safe and equitable spaces free from discrimination,” wrote Alex Battick, principal lawyer at Battick Legal Advisory.

His firm specializes in serving a diverse client base including students, families, employees, unions and organizations providing education services in Ontario.

As the protesters peter out and the picket signs slowly come down, it’s clear that all eyes will be glued to the Ministry of Education and school boards in the following weeks.

Some school boards, including the TDSB and Durham District School Board are showing their support by raising Pride flags all week.