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COVID-19 protests in Canadian capital turn violent and anti-LGBTQ

Government sharply criticized over convoy response

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Screenshot of AP news coverage of Canadian protests against COVID 19 mandates

As the nationwide protests against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government’s mandates on vaccinations, masks, and other preventative measures against the coronavirus pandemic enters a second week, ground zero for the so-called “Freedom” demonstrations in Ottawa’s downtown area has become so combative that residents are now in fear.

In multiple interviews with Canadian media outlets including the CBC, Ottawans say they are under siege.

“For 10 days, downtown residents have been subjected to relentless honking, choking diesel fumes from trucks parked near their homes. They’ve expressed outrage over the open display of hate symbols, and some say they’ve been subjected to racial, homophobic and transphobic slurs. Others claim they’ve been attacked for wearing masks,” the CBC reported Tuesday.

“Many residents say they’ve felt let down by all levels of government and police since the protest convoy arrived Jan. 28.”

In addition to the unceasing cataphonics of the truckers blaring horns as they continue to block most of the thoroughfares in downtown, the noise soon to be abated by a temporary injunction issued by Justice Hugh McLean during a court hearing in Ottawa Monday which is effective immediately and is meant to silence the horns at all hours for the next 10 days, wanton acts and threats of violence continue to plague the city’s residents.

Blatant acts of racism also have residents on edge.

“Being a woman of color, I felt very fearful,” said Arushana, who left her home in the ByWard Market to stay with a colleague in the Glebe last weekend. (CBC is not using her last name because she is concerned for her safety.)

After putting up with sleepless nights and fireworks being aimed at her building, one of the final straws was seeing a Confederate flag on her way home from work.

“I broke down,” she said. “As a first generation immigrant child, seeing such hatred, especially when my parents came to this country to provide me and my sister with a better opportunity and a better life … I didn’t feel safe.”

CBC reported that its journalists also heard dozens of similar stories from people via e-mail.

[Yet another wrote] she was confronted on her way to the grocery store. 

“I was shoved, screamed at, called [sexist and homophobic slurs], and had three large men try to pen me in and physically block my way, because I was wearing a mask,” she wrote.

Screenshot of CBC coverage showing protestors riding horses in downtown Ottawa, one carrying a 2020 Trump campaign flag.

The Washington Blade spoke with a gay resident who asked to not be identified who said that he had left a Tim Hortons located on Albert Street not far from Parliament Hill when he encountered a group of trucker-protestors who immediately verbally assaulted him.

“They shoved me up against the side of the building and then snatched my toque off my head and then they saw the design on it — the gay maple leaf flag, it got ugly. One of them got in my face and said that wearing it was a desecration. Then he shoved me hard, called me a faggot and threatened to beat me. I managed to get away but I’m now at my cousins. I don’t feel safe to go back to my flat,” he told the Blade.

The protests have also gotten the backing of American anti-mask/vaccination activists including prominent anti-LGBTQ evangelicals. On his Facebook page, Franklin Graham urged Canadians to back the truckers and others:

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Canadian Pride events ban anti-transgender politicians

United Conservative Party officials pushing anti-trans measures in Alberta, Saskatchewan

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Edmonton Pride Festival at Churchill Square in 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Pride Festival’s Facebook page)

Pride festivals in two of Canada’s most politically conservative provinces are putting their feet down and barring lawmakers who are pushing anti-transgender legislation from participating in Pride festivities this season.

This week, nine Pride festivals across Alberta — including those in the largest cities Calgary and Edmonton — put out a joint statement that they will “not allow the participation of the United Conservative Party (UCP) in our 2024 Pride celebrations.” The move came days after several Pride festivals in neighboring Saskatchewan announced they had barred the conservative Saskatchewan Party from participating in their parades.

Both provinces have recently passed or announced policies that would harm trans youth. 

Last year, Saskatchewan enacted a regulation that would require schools to out gender non-conforming children to their parents, and when the regulation was struck down by a court, the government enacted a law using the “notwithstanding” rule that allows governments to circumvent the federal Charter of Rights.

In January, Alberta’s conservative government announced it would bring forward legislation in the fall to ban gender confirming surgeries on minors, restrict hormone treatment for minors under 16, bar trans children from playing in gender-appropriate school sports, and require parental notification for students to use a preferred name or pronoun.

“This is a direct response to Premier Danielle Smith’s stated intention to infringe on the rights, freedoms, and healthcare of the transgender community in Alberta,” the statement put out by the Alberta Pride organizations reads. “You may not join our celebrations in June when you plan to attack us in September.” 

“Queer rights should not be a political decision. Trans rights are human rights. We invite Premier Smith to re-consider her harmful and damaging policies and engage in meaningful discussions with the Two Spirit, Trans, Nonbinary, and Queer community.”

Other Pride festivals barring the UCP from participating include festivals in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Banff, Canmore, Lacombe, Jasper, Fort Saskatchewan, and Okotoks. The statement was also joined by three queer service organizations.

“When queer people are being attacked by our government, we come together and get things done,” says James Demers, a community organizer with Queer Citizens United, the umbrella organization of Alberta Pride societies that put together the statement. 

Queen City Pride, which organizes the annual Pride festival in Saskatchewan’s capital of Regina, was the first city to announce that it would not allow the Saskatchewan Party to participate in its events.

“We decided as a board that we might have to put some distance between us and the Saskatchewan Party. We were very hopeful that they would change course, but they’ve gone against our Charter of Rights. We’re not ok with this, and they’re not backing down,” says Queen City Pride Co-Executive Director Riviera Bonneau.

The Saskatchewan Party has participated in the Queen City Pride in the past, with Premier Scott Moe even marching in the parade in 2019. At the time, he told CTV News he believed it was the “right thing for a premier to do.

“The thing that triggered our announcement was that the Saskatchewan Party had put forward a registration to participate in our parade,” Bonneau says. “I don’t know why they’d want to participate, but they did try.”

Bonneau says she communicated with other Pride festivals in the province before announcing the decision publicly, as she didn’t want to pressure other festivals to make the same decision. In the event, Pride festivals in Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, and the Battlefords announced that they would not allow the Saskatchewan Party to participate, while a spokesperson for Saskatoon Pride told CBC that it would carefully vet any application to participate, and the Party would be unlikely to be accepted.

While the federal Conservative Party has offered support for the anti-trans policies announced by both provinces, Bonneau says her organization has not banned the federal party yet for a simple reason: it hasn’t applied to participate. 

But Demers says his group’s stance is that the federal Conservatives are not welcome at the member festivals either.

“They’re not any nicer to us than the UCP are. I think the consequence extends to them as well,” he says.

Demers says that the federal Conservative Party often applies to participate in Alberta’s Pride festivals, but is typically rejected.

“We have an application process for all of our Prides, and they never pass the process. They’ll typically hold a barbeque somewhere and call it a Pride event, but they have not been invited,” Demers says. “We’ve now formally disinvited them. We would not like them to show up and pretend that they care about us as their constituents. It’s us making it clear that they are not welcome.”

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Prominent Ugandan activist asks for asylum in Canada

Steven Kabuye stabbed outside his home on Jan. 3

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Steven Kabuye (Photo via X)

A prominent Ugandan activist who was stabbed outside his home earlier this year has asked for asylum in Canada.

Two men on motorcycles attacked Steven Kabuye, co-executive director of Coloured Voice Truth to LGBTQ Uganda, on Jan. 3 while he was going to work. 

Kabuye posted a video to his X account that showed him on the ground writhing in pain with a deep laceration on his right forearm and a knife embedded in his stomach.

He spoke with the Washington Blade from Kenya on Jan. 8 while he was receiving treatment. Kabuye arrived in Canada on March 6.

Kabuye during an April 27 telephone interview with the Blade from Canada said Rainbow Railroad, a group that works with LGBTQ and intersex refugees, helped him “get away from the dangers that were awaiting me in Kenya and Uganda.” Kabuye said he asked for asylum in Canada because he “cannot return to either Uganda or Kenya.”

“The Ugandan government fails to get the culprits who wanted to end my life,” he said.

Kabuye told the Blade that Ugandan police officials threaten his colleagues when he publicly speaks about his case.

“Every time I come up and demand for the police to act out, they end up calling the colleagues of mine that remain in Uganda and intimidate them so they can scare me off, so they can make me pack up and keep quiet,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” 

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly described the law as a “blatant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTQ+ Ugandans.”

The U.S. has sanctioned Ugandan officials and removed the country from a duty-free trade program. The World Bank Group also suspended new loans to Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court last month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ activists have appealed the ruling.

“The previously concluded ruling did not make a difference,” said Kabuye.

Kabuye told the Blade he has an interview with Canadian immigration officials on Friday. He said he will continue to advocate on LGBTQ Ugandans from Canada. 

“I’m very grateful to Rainbow Railroad,” said Kabuye. “They’ve still given me a chance to continue my advocacy.”

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Canadian intelligence agency: Anti-LGBTQ groups are ‘extreme threat’

CSIS issued advisory this week

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CSIS report made public this week.

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service is warning that anti-gender and anti-LGBTQ activists are posing a risk of “extreme violence” against the LGBTQ community in Canada, following a year of spreading organized anti-LGBTQ+ protests, anti-transgender rhetoric coming from provincial governments and an attack on a gender studies university class.

In a report obtained by the public broadcaster CBC, the CSIS Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center says it is monitoring the potential for a violent attack on Pride festivals and nightclubs across the country. The ITAC is charged with forecasting the possibility of terrorism in Canada, based on analysis of actor intent, capability and opportunity.

“Anti-LGBTQ+ narratives remain a common theme in violent rhetoric espoused by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Freedom Movement and networks such as Diagolon and QAnon,” the report says, according to the CBC. “Trans and drag communities in Canada have been the target of several online threats and real world intimidation tactics in recent months.”

The Washington Blade has requested a copy of the report, but it has not been made public at this time. 

Last June, a knife-wielding man attacked a class on the philosophy of gender at the University of Waterloo, approximately 70 miles west of Toronto, injuring the professor and two students before he was subdued. He now faces 11 terrorism-related charges.

“CSIS assesses that the violent threat posed by the anti-gender movement is almost certain to continue over the coming year and that violent actors may be inspired by the University of Waterloo attack to carry out their own extreme violence against the LGBTQ+ community or against other targets they view as representing the gender ideology ‘agenda,’” CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam says in an email.

Balsam says that CSIS believes the network of anti-LGBTQ and far-right communities in Canada may be a breeding ground for violent activities.

“While violent rhetoric itself does not equate or often lead to violence, the ecosystem of violent rhetoric within the anti-gender movement, compounded with other extreme worldviews, can lead to serious violence. CSIS assesses that exposure to groups and individuals espousing anti-gender extremist rhetoric could inspire and encourage serious violence against the LGBTQ+ community, or against those who are viewed as supporters of pro-gender ideology policies and events,” he says.

Last year, Pride Toronto Executive Director Sherwin Modeste told Xtra Magazine that the festival was boosting its security and increasing emergency drills to prepare for the festival in the wake of rising anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and hate crimes.

According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation has increased in each of the last three years, from 265 incidents in 2019, to 491 in 2022, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a staggering 85 percent increase. The 2019 figure had been a record number when it was reported. 

Far-right groups in Canada coalesced during the COVID-19 pandemic around protests against vaccine and mask mandates, culminating in a siege of downtown Ottawa and a blockade of border crossings that lasted for nearly a month in February 2022. It is believed that as COVID-19 receded as an animating issue, many of the networks involved transitioned to protesting LGBTQ rights and trans rights in particular.

A small but organized group of anti-LGBTQ activists have organized sustained campaigns targeting school boards, libraries, drag performances, Pride festivals and provincial legislatures to oppose LGBTQ rights and sex education in schools for the last two years. The protests are generally outnumbered by counter-protesters who support LGBTQ rights, but there have been sporadic reports of violence and arrests at the protests.

Last fall, the far-right X account Libs of TikTok, whose operator Chaya Raichik has boasted that her anti-LGBTQ “shitposts” frequently inspire violence and bomb threats, turned her attention to a school in suburban Vancouver because a teacher who is nonbinary works there. 

While no violence emerged from the post, the parent who drew Riachik’s attention was given a warning by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop harassing school officials, but she has continued to post racist, homophobic, and transphobic statements to her X account. While Canada has long enjoyed relative peace on LGBTQ issues, starting last year, several conservative-led provincial governments began introducing policies to restrict the names and pronouns students can use at school in the name of “parents’ rights.” 

Recently, the Alberta government went further, announcing that it would restrict gender care for minors, bar trans girls from sports, and require schools to obtain written permission from parents before sexual orientation or gender can be discussed in classrooms.

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