Hundreds packed Parliament Hill on Monday to protest the arrival of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith in town, after she announced proposed restrictions on transgender youth.
Smith was in Ottawa to mark the opening of a provincial office in the city that will be used to make Alberta’s case to the federal government and to participate in at an event near the Hill.
Momentum, a non-profit organization for social and gender justice, had gathered hundreds of people through social media just outside where Smith was speaking. The rally lasted for hours with participants chanting and displaying banners with pro-trans messaging.
The rally also drew counter-protesters who support of the restrictions announced in Alberta. Despite occasional shouting matches, there were no physical clashes between the groups.
The United Conservative Party provincial government’s new policies in Alberta on transgender healthcare — specifically regarding the rights and freedoms of trans youth in Alberta — have generated resistance from the medical community and the provincial NDP and condemnation from LGBTQ+ groups across Canada. Federal Liberals politicians too have been quite outspoken against the proposals.
“This premier is engaging in a reckless attack on the rights and humanity of trans kids, and Ottawa won’t stand up for that,” said Fae Johnstone, an Ottawa trans woman and the executive director of Momentum and one of the organizers of the rally.
Premier Smith’s new policies on transgender healthcare include a ban on the use of puberty blockers and on gender-affirming hormone treatments for children aged 15 and under. Use of the treatments is also limited among those aged 16 and 17.
The policies also ban gender-reassignment surgeries, also known as top and bottom surgeries, for children aged 17 and under.
Matthew Heffernan, a trans man at the rally, carried a poster displaying the transgender flag with the message: “Protect Trans Kids.”
“I transitioned all under the age of 15,” Heffernan said. “I think it’s really important for me to come out and show my support for kids who are in the same position I was in a couple years ago.”
Jaisie Walker, a trans person from Alberta, said Smith’s policies threaten the rights of trans youth.
“Youth who don’t have supportive families rely on schools and their teachers as a safe adult and a safe point of disclosure and taking that away is harmful for our communities,” they said.
Not all those demonstrating across from Parliament on Monday were sympathetic to Walker’s position. One counter-protester had a sign that read: “Pray For The Woke Mob — May God Have Mercy On Their Souls.”
At certain points, counter-protesters verbally clashed with members of the pro-trans rally. Fortunately, the disagreements remained non-violent, but shouting matches were fierce between the opposing sides of the protest.
“Fringe groups who make queer and trans youth identities political platforms are not representative of most of us who want queer and trans youth to know we’ve got their backs,” Walker said.
Although counter-protesters were impassioned, they were vastly outnumbered on Monday.
As the evening continued, the counter-protest withdrew farther down the sidewalk to the other side of the Sir John A. Macdonald Building’s entrance, where law enforcement separated the two groups using fences.
On top of Smith’s already implemented policies regarding transgender healthcare, the Alberta premier has also announced a list of proposed restrictions on transgender youth that are not yet in effect. These include required parental consent for students under the age of 15 who want to change their name or pronouns, as well as a ban on gender reassignment hormone therapy for the same age group unless treatment is already underway.
“We know gender affirming care is evidence-informed healthcare,” Walker said.
At Monday’s rally it was clear both sides of the argument are steadfast in their convictions. Johnstone and her fellow protesters are concerned about the impact of Smith’s policies on the future rights of transgender youth across Canada.
“We will stop this premier in her tracks, and we’ll keep fighting for a more free, equal and socially just future,” Johnstone said.