Anti-LGBTQ+ ‘Million Man Marches’ Are Being Held Across Canada. Who is Behind Them and What Are They Really About?
Everything you need to know about the ‘one million march for children’ to stop the ‘indoctrination of children in public schools’
Anti-LGBTQ+ “million man marches” are being planned across Canada this week – but who is behind these events and what are they really about?
While organizers are rallying supporters behind vague slogans and careful talking points about“protecting children” and “parental rights,” many organizers and groups behind the marches have well-documented track records opposing 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, protesting vaccines and public health orders or subscribing to a wide range of far-right conspiratorial narratives.
Here’s everything you need to know about the “One Million March For Children”:
What is the ‘One Million March For Children’ really about?
The “One Million March For Children” emerged following a rally led by a Christian Nationalist youth group and an anti-trans activist targeting three Ottawa-area schools in June that saw hundreds of people crowding into quiet residential streets.
The idea of a “million person march” also emerged around the same time as plans were being kicked around about staging a “Save the Children Convoy” to Toronto (that as-of-yet still appears stuck in a consultation and planning phase) protesting a wide range of far-right conspiracies revolving around pedophilia and schools.
Organizers claim their marches are not “against LGBTQIA+ rights,” yet these heavily-qualified and carefully-worded denials appear contradicted by other statements.
“Our primary concern is indoctrination of children in public schools,” the group says on its website. “This movement is mainly focused on protection of children against LGBTQIA+ ideology in school system and not to fight back against the LGBTQ community.”
A closer look at the main organizers show many have histories of making openly homophobic statements and enforcing rigid, hardline ideas about sexuality and gender.
Who are the main organizers behind the ‘one million march for children’?
The main groups involved in organizing and planning are linked to hardline social conservative groups and other groups linked to the Freedom Convoy, protest movements that arose during the pandemic and various far-right conspiracies.
According to information compiled by Community Solidarity Ottawa, many organizers have made “homophobic, anti-LGBTQ” statements and have “connections with the extreme far-right.”
Many admins of the official “One Million March For Freedom” Facebook group are linked to a group called “Hands Off Our Children,” which lists a group of socially conservative Muslim activists and a contributor to an American right-wing website as spokespersons: Kamel El-Cheikh, Dr. Bahira Abdulsalam, Mahmoud Mourra and David Krayden.
The group’s leaders have been busy this summer.
El-Cheikh, who has a history of staging anti-LGBTQ+ protests at Ottawa school board meetings, was an outspoken critic of lockdowns and masks during the pandemic and a vocal supporter of the Freedom Convoy occupation of Ottawa. More recently, El-Cheikh was involved with a rally targeting Ottawa-area schools in June.
El-Cheikh is prolific on social media, repeatedly posting homophobic and misogynistic content. El-Cheik has posted statements advocating for “straight rights” and “straight pride” and his Twitter account was banned for “hateful conduct” in July.
Another spokesperson, Mourra, has organized anti-LGBTQ events around Calgary and was recently charged with hate-motivated criminal harassment. Mourra made headlines earlier this summer after appearing at an event with a Conservative MP.
Abdulsalam has promoted the “million man marches” by making appearances on far-right convoy-adjacent livestreams and podcasts. Earlier this month, Abdulsalam posted a statement on behalf of Hands Off Our Kids that claimed: “This is a movement for the children and straight families.”
Krayden, on the other hand, is a conservative media personality who currently contributes to the Western Standard and the Post Millennial. Krayden previously served as Ottawa bureau chief for the Daily Caller, an American right-wing website.
On August 1, Krayden published a story labeled “news” for the Post Millennial announcing plans for a “million person march” against “LGBTQ indoctrination in schools,” though the story did not disclose that the author also acts as a spokesperson for the group – Krayden did not respond to multiple requests for comment from PressProgress.
During the early stages of planning the marches, “Hands Off Our Children” co-promoted the events alongside the Christian Nationalist youth group “Save Canada.”
Josh Alexander, founder of “Save Canada,” was a lead organizer of the controversial rally targeting Ottawa-area schools in June alongside an anti-trans activist named “Billboard Chris.”
The “Save Canada” leader receives legal support from a right-wing evangelical group called Liberty Coalition Canada. A recent CBC News investigation revealed Liberty Coalition Canada is currently seeking $1.3 million to recruit hundreds of fundamentalist Christians to run for office at all levels of government with the goal of “calibrating the laws to align with Biblical principles.”
Alexander and Billboard Chris both appeared at a secret closed doors meeting at Toronto’s elite Albany Club attended by prominent Canadian conservatives two months earlier, where they promoted the rally targeting Ottawa schools.
NEW: Organizers of a far-right rally targeting Ottawa schools attended secret meeting at Toronto’s elite Albany Club.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) June 23, 2023
Another march organizer, former People’s Party candidate Data Metcalfe, was charged with criminal harassment earlier this month in connection to a “surprise convoy” targeting the private residence of Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey this summer. Metcalfe’s group, “Family Freedom” has since had a falling out with other organizers and is now promoting the march under a separate brand.
Who is helping promote the marches?
In addition to these main organizers, the “One Million March For Children” has also received support from a number of far-right groups and online influencers.
Veterans For Freedom, a far-right convoy group that counts former Newfoundland Premier Briand Peckford as an “adviser,” has received support from Freedom Convoy leader Tom Marazzo and played a key role in organizing James Topp’s march to Ottawa on Canada Day 2022 that was joined by Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.
The group is also partnered with a number of anti-public health and anti-vaccine groups and has been vocal in supporting Save Canada and an extremist online community called “Diagolon.”
Multiple organizers with “One Million March For Children” have done livestream interviews with Veterans For Freedom’s Atlantic Canada representative Jeff Evely.
— @stephaniecarvin.bsky.social (@StephanieCarvin) November 2, 2022
The event has been promoted by right-wing alternative media sources like Rebel Media, True North and the Post Millennial, as well as fringe sources like convoy livestreamer Chris Dacey and convicted criminal Kevin J. Johnston.
The march has also been endorsed by a number of hardline social conservative groups and influencers, including Take Back Alberta, 4MyCanada, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson and the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition.
On Tuesday, CLC President Jeff Gunnarson issued a statement directing its supporters to attend the marches to protest “the non-stop LGBT brainwashing” and “stop the classroom sexualization of children.”
Where are these “million man marches” happening?
March organizers have been promoting events in cities and towns across the country, with promotional posters advertising a variety of locations for marches ranging from legislatures and city halls to schools, school boards and teacher union buildings.
The “Hands Off Our Kids” website is promoting 36 separate “million person marches” while the competing “Freedom Family” website lists an additional 101 “million person marches,” although some overlap and it is unclear how well organized all of these events truly are.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network cautions that the “situation is fluid” and a number of marches planned in some towns and cities appear to have little to no on-the-ground support.
“It’s difficult to know exactly how organized the on-the-ground rallies and marches will be,” Canadian Anti-Hate Network Deputy Director Elizabeth Simons told PressProgress. “We have seen posters advertising marches and rallies in various cities but no discernible local organizers behind them. ”
“Some cities have multiple posters advertising more than one rally or march, leading to confusion among the movement’s supporters,” Simons noted. “We’ve documented social media pages associated with the One Million March For Children and Hands Off Our Kids asking people to come forward if they are the organizers.”
“Despite the somewhat disorganized nature of the protests, the impact could be big,” Simons said, noting “even if some communities have low turnouts, dozens of planned protests across Canada could make it appear that there is outsized support for stripping rights away from 2SLGBTQ+ people.”
In Toronto, Save Canada’s Josh Alexander and “Billboard Chris” – the two ringleaders of the June rally targeting schools in Ottawa – are staging another rally targeting Victoria Park Collegiate and Annunciation Catholic School.
Meanwhile another group is planning a “mini-convoy” targeting the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s headquarters in Edmonton. That event is being organized by Benita Pedersen, a far-right activist who has organized protests against rainbow crosswalks, organized protests outside hospitals and childrens’ vaccine clinics and an early promoter of the Freedom Convoy who is also lead organizer with the group Take Back Alberta.
“These rallies shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum but as part of the larger movement, which has already seen legislation against trans and non-binary students in two provinces,” Simons said.
How are community members fighting back?
Labour unions are taking significant steps to mobilize members to outnumber and overshadow “ultra-conservative forces” in the streets with 18 separate counter-marches planned around the province.
On Tuesday, the Ontario Federation of Labour issued a release stating that “in response to the so-called ‘Million Person March for Children,” the “Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), affiliated unions, along with labour councils, are joining with community organizations to plan province-wide events in solidarity and support of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community”
“Contrary to their public messaging, the ‘Million Person March for Children’ is not focused on safeguarding children; rather, the true intent of organizers is to protest the inclusion of all 2SLGBTQIA+ content in schools, foment fear, and divide working people for their own political purposes. We will not let them spread this vitriol,” the OFL said.
Similarly, the Public Service Alliance of Canada is calling on members and allies to “join union members, leaders, and allies at one of the many grassroots counter-protests being organized in communities where protests are scheduled to be held.”
“While these groups claim to be in support of ‘parental rights’, the protests are actually anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate rallies which aim to eliminate Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum and policies from Canadian schools,” PSAC states.
Meanwhile, community groups like Community Solidarity Ottawa have prepared safety plans for participants to avoid provocations, harassment and other tactics used by far-right activists as well as livestreamers and pseudo-journalists known to target these events.
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