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Canada reaffirms pledge to resettle LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban regained control of Afghanistan last August

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Parliament Hill - Colline du Parlement Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Public domain)

OTTAWA, Ontario — The Canadian government on Dec. 31 once again said it will resettle LGBTQ Afghans in the country.

Reuters reported a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser did not say how many LGBTQ Afghans will be resettled in Canada, but said they would have “been referred by a third-party aid organization.”

The spokesperson also told Reuters the Canadian government will allow upwards of 230 female judges and their relatives who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country to settle in Canada. They are expected to arrive in Canada this year, but the spokesperson did not provide a specific timeline.

The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15 after it entered Kabul, the country’s capital.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The Canadian government previously said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans who Rainbow Railroad, a Canada-based group, helped evacuate from Afghanistan arrived in the U.K. last fall. Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ.

Rainbow Railroad is one of the many advocacy groups that has urged the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.

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Ugandan LGBTQ+ activist asks for asylum in Canada

Steven Kabuye stabbed outside his home on Jan. 3

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Steven Kabuye (Photo via X)

TORONTO — 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 parliament debates regulating online hate speech & porn

As opposition-backed “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act” nears passage, government introduces “Online Harms Act”

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The West Block is one of the three buildings on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Ontario. Since 28 January 2019, it has housed the interim House of Commons Chamber, installed to accommodate the House while the Centre Block is closed. (Photo Credit: Parliament of Canada/Parlement du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – Canadian lawmakers are debating dueling bills meant to protect children from hate speech and pornography, and critics are saying both bills have serious civil liberties concerns and may restrict access to lawful LGBTQ+ content on the internet. 

The Canadian government introduced it’s long-promised “Online Harms Act” (C-63) that aims to regulate and ban hate speech and revenge porn on the internet into Parliament on Monday. The government says the bill will hold online platforms accountable for the dissemination and amplification of harmful content.

The new bill would impose on social media companies an obligation to act responsibly for content on their services, including by protecting children and removing child porn and non-consensual porn. A new regulatory body would also handle complaints from Canadians about child and nonconsensual porn on the internet. 

Additionally, the new bill would increase penalties for spreading hate propaganda online, with a maximum penalty set at life imprisonment. 

Arif Virani, the minister of justice, says the government’s bill is necessary to protect children from exploitation and psychological harm online.

“Children are vulnerable online. They need to be protected from online sexual exploitation, hate and cyberbullying. Now more than ever, especially given the evolving capabilities of AI, online platforms must take responsibility for addressing harmful content and creating a digital world where everyone can participate safely and freely. This legislation does just that,” Virani says.

The bill comes as the largely opposition-backed “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act” (S-210) nears passage. S-210 aims to prevent young people from accessing online pornography by requiring any site that habitually shows pornography to require age verification. 

It’s not yet clear how the sites would be required to verify users’ ages – that’s meant to be developed in future regulations. But proposals have included facial scanning that uses AI to estimate users ages or requiring users to submit government ID to the site. Civil liberties critics have said both ideas intrude on civil liberties and put users’ personal information in jeopardy, and both are likely to be easily circumvented.

The bill also does not define what sites would be required to verify ages. Pure porn sites would be included, but it’s possible that search engines like Google or social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit would. Given the heavy penalties S-210 would impose for violations, platforms may respond by  either overzealously blocking content or blocking access from Canada entirely 

The government does not support S-210, but it has already passed through the Senate and passed second reading in the House of Commons with the support of all opposition parties and a handful of Liberal government MPs. It’s currently in the committee stage.

The government bill, C-63, does not address access to legal pornography. The opposition Conservative Party denounced C-63 before it was even introduced.

But the parties have spent the last few weeks sparring over S-210. Last week, Conservative party leader Pierre Poilievre said if he were Prime Minister he would require porn sites to verify ages, but Conservatives have consistently said they oppose every proposed measure to verify ages and not proposed any other mechanisms.

The bill’s sponsor, Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, told the House in November, “there should be no direct collection of identity documentation by the site publisher from the pornographic site, no age estimates based on the user’s web browser history and no processing of biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying or authenticating a natural person.”

And last week, one of the largest porn sites in the world, PornHub, which is owned by the Montreal-based porn conglomerate Aylo, which also owns SeanCody, Men.com, and WhyNotBi, waded into the debate. Solomon Friedman, a Vice-President of Aylo’s parent company Ethical Capital Partners, says that the company would never agree to collect users’ data and would simply block access to all of Canada. He’s calling instead for device manufacturers to build age restrictions into the phones and laptops that children use. 

“We will never ever take the private identifying information of our users,” Friedman told the Canadian Press.

“(We) will always comply with the law,” he said. “That’s either by imposing the solution, not operating … or in addition to all those, challenging these in law, if we think that they violate some higher legal principle like the Constitution.”

Pornhub has already blocked access from several US states in response to similar ID-requirement laws. But some critics have questioned the effectiveness of the laws, pointing out that data shows usage of VPNs, which hide a user’s geographic location and would enable them to get around such blocks appeared to skyrocket in those states immediately after.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Canadian town narrowly votes to ban Pride flags

Conservatives in Canada have increasingly taken to campaigning against LGBTQ rights, and particularly in Alberta

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RF Staples School Thunder Alliance & Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada Pride crosswalk dedication, June 28 2023. (Photo Credit: Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada)

By Rob Salerno | WESTLOCK, Canada – The small town of Westlock, Alberta voted yesterday to ban the display of Pride flags, as well as any flag other than the Canadian flag or provincial and municipal flags, on public property, in a referendum that saw the ban win by a margin of just 24 votes.

Unofficial results posted Thursday night at 9:30 showed the flag ban received 663 votes in favor and 639 votes against. 

The town of 5,000 people about 50 miles north of Edmonton was required to hold the citizen-initiated referendum over the objections of its council due to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists began organizing against Pride flags when the local high school’s gay-straight alliance asked the town council for permission to install a rainbow crosswalk near the town hall. The council voted unanimously to allow the students to paint the crosswalk and the RF Staples School Thunder Alliance installed it in June.

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists promptly set to work collecting signatures for their anti-Pride-flag initiative and got 700 signatures by September – more than enough to force the town to hold the referendum.

The referendum asked residents, “Do you agree that: Only Federal, Provincial and Municipal flags may be flown on flagpoles on Town of Westlock municipal property, all crosswalks in the Town of Westlock must be the standard white striped pattern between two parallel white lines, and the existing rainbow colored crosswalk in the Town of Westlock be removed?”

It’s not clear when the rainbow crosswalk will be removed.

In a press release issued after the results were made public, Westlock mayor Jon Kramer said the town council will continue to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, even as it is required to uphold the bylaw.

“Council did not support the proposed Crosswalk and Flagpole Bylaw, as we felt it went against our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. This plebiscite is binding, and as such, the bylaw does restrict how we are able to show this commitment. However, we will continue to find ways to embrace those in our community who need a helping hand, including marginalized groups,” he said. 

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“Equity is the reason we require wheelchair accessible parking; it is why we are developing an accessible playground; and yes, it is the reason we show support to marginalized groups like our local 2SLGBTQ+ community. That won’t stop, it will just take on a different form. We know the Town of Westlock is a welcoming community and that will not change.”

Petition organizer Stephanie Bakker has been at pains to stress that her activism has been about forcing the government to be “neutral,” rather than specifically anti-LGBTQ+, even though it was only the Pride crosswalk that motivated her to action. 

In a post on her campaign web site, she thanks the town for voting in favor of the ban, and says that an official announcement will follow. 

Activists in Alberta aren’t taking this defeat lying down. 

“Smells like discrimination. Looks like discrimination. It is discrimination. I’d expect a court challenge on the way. You can’t single out the 2SLGBTQ+ community and call it neutrality. That’s a violation of human rights,” says Kristopher Wells, an activist and educator in Edmonton, in a post on X.

Under Alberta law, the municipal government may not repeal or amend the bylaw until three years have passed from the referendum date. Alternatively, another citizen-initiated referendum could be called to repeal, but only after a year has passed. However, the bylaw is not immune from a possible constitutional challenge. 

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Conservatives in Canada have increasingly taken to campaigning against LGBTQ rights, and particularly in Alberta, where the government recently announced new policies restricting teaching about LGBTQ+ people in schools, restricting access to gender care for trans youth, and requiring trans students to get parental permission to use a different name or pronoun in school. 

Also on Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton, where he met with LGBTQ+ community members. At a press conference, he delivered sharp criticism of the Alberta government’s proposed policies, calling them “some of the most difficult policies against vulnerable youth that the country has ever seen.”

“Why has the right suddenly decided to attack the LGBTQ community?” Trudeau said. “Shame on them. And of course, as a government we’re going to be there to protect our most vulnerable.”

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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

CSIS warns Canadians & law enforcement that ‘anti-gender’ activists & organizations may strike LGBTQ+ organizations and events

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Canadian Security and Intelligence Service National Headquarters: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: CSIS/Government of Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) 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-trans 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 Centre (ITAC) 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 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 XtraMagazine 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% 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 receded as an animating issue, many of the networks involved transitioned to protesting LGBTQ+ rights and transgender 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 Raichik’s attention was given a warning by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) 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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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Canadian police cleared in anti-LGBTQ+ tractor flip incident

British Columbia Highway Patrol officers were pursuing a tractor participating in an anti-LGBTQ protest on a highway when it flipped

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(Photo Credit: RCMP/British Columbia Highway Patrol)

By Rob Salerno | VANCOUVER, Canada – A civilian oversight body has cleared British Columbia Highway Patrol officers of wrongdoing in a highway chase that led a tractor carrying an anti-LGBT banner to flip over last fall.

The incident occurred on Nov 25, as police pursued a tractor that was participating in a protest against the province’s inclusive sex education curriculum called the “Stop SOGI-123 Road Rally,” a small convoy of vehicles driving from Chilliwack to Vancouver along Highway 15. 

The BC Highway Patrol attempted to get the tractor driver to stop near Surrey in suburban Vancouver, then used a PIT maneuver, where the pursuing car hits the rear quadrant of the target vehicle, causing it to lose traction and spin out. The tractor flips over, and the driver was ejected from the vehicle’s open roof and sustained injuries. He was arrested and taken to the hospital.

The dramatic incident was captured on video by eyewitnesses.

The Independent Investigations Office of BC, which conducts routine investigations into all police incidents that result in injury or death, issued its report on the incident late Friday. While the report has not been made public due to an ongoing court case related to the incident, a news release says that there was no evidence the officers involved did anything wrong.

“The Chief Civilian Director has reviewed the evidence – civilian witness statements, forensic scene analysis, video footage, medical records, and police information – and determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe any officer may have committed an offence,” the report says.

The tractor driver, who has been identified as Chilliwack farmer Bill Shoker, had released several videos on social media in advance of the rally in which he denounced the province’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity-123 (SOGI-123) curriculum, which is used in public schools to promote inclusion of 2SLGBTQIA+ students and families. 

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Protests against sexual orientation and gender identity material and sex education more generally in school curriculums have become a regular occurrence in Canada in recent years, as a network of extremist anti-vax and anti-mask protestors morphed gradually morphed into an anti-LGBTQ+ protest network. They routinely disrupt school board meetings, library events, and protest at provincial legislatures. The in-person protest groups are often quite small and outnumbered by counter-protestors who support LGBT inclusion. 

Nevertheless, they’ve managed to disrupt events and have scored some policy wins, with several provinces run by conservative governments launching policies restricting students’ pronoun and name use. This month, Alberta announced a new policy would be coming in the fall to restrict discussion of LGBT issues in classrooms, bar trans girls from playing in school sports, and restrict gender care for adolescents.

The BC protesters were trying to launch a campaign to force a recall election of the province’s Education Minister Rachna Singh. The campaign officially failed when organizers were unable to collect the required signatures by the Jan 29 deadline. The campaign had to collect signatures from 40% of the eligible voters in Singh’s district in Surrey (11,811 signatures total), but only reported collecting 3,264.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Alberta, Canada to block gender care and forcibly out trans kids

Canadian queer activists who say the new policies will be the most restrictive on queer and trans youth in Canada

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith responds to criticism following the announcement of new policies affecting trans youth. (Screenshot/YouTube CTV)

By Rob Salerno | ALBERTA, Canada – The leader of Canada’s province of Alberta announced a slate of new anti-LGBTQ+ policies in a video released on social media yesterday prompting outcry from queer activists who say the new policies will be the most restrictive on queer and trans youth in Canada.

In a seven-minute video uploaded to X, Premier Danielle Smith announced that “top and bottom” surgeries would be restricted to those aged 18 and older, while trans youth under age 16 would no longer be able to access hormone therapies. Genital surgeries are already not generally medically recommended or performed on minors in Canada.

Trans students under age 16 will need parental permission before using a name or pronoun different from their legal name in school, while students 16 and up will have their parents notified of any name and pronoun changes. 

The premier says the province will also work to restrict women’s and girls’ sports to biological females, while also encouraging new coed leagues that trans students would be allowed to play in.

Additionally, under the new policy, parents will need to be notified and given the right to opt their children out before any classroom discussion on sexuality and gender, while “third party materials” on the sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity will need to be vetted by the Ministry of Education before they can be used in class.

It’s unclear at this point how the new policies will be enacted or enforced, but Smith has said that she wants the policies to be in place by the fall. Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate, an office of the legislature, was not briefed on the policy before it was announced.

In her video, Smith also announces that the government will attempt to recruit doctors who can perform gender-confirming surgeries to Alberta for adult care – currently, those seeking gender surgeries must travel to Quebec for care, nearly 2000 miles away. Smith says that about 100 people receive gender-confirming surgeries annually, about a quarter of whom are aged 18-25.

Smith also announces that child protection laws will be strictly enforced to protect trans children from abusive parents. 

However, in her follow up press conference today, Smith seemed to be unaware of what gender care involves, erroneously suggesting that people who undergo gender-affirming care cannot have sex or reproduce.

The Canadian 2SLGBTQIA+ advocacy group Egale and the Canadian Civil Liberties Union quickly announced that it would be filing a legal action against the policy.

“This is a direct and unprecedented attack on 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians, and trans and gender diverse youth in particular. The draconian measures announced run directly counter to expert guidance and evidence, violate the constitutional rights of 2SLGBTQI+ people, and will lead to irreparable harm and suffering,” Egale says in a statement. “The Government of Alberta is playing politics with some of the most vulnerable members of our society: trans and gender diverse youth, attacking them for cheap political points. We will not stand for it.”

The policies were also quickly denounced by Women & Sport Canada and the Alberta Teacher’s Association, the Alberta New Democratic Party, and the mayor of Calgary.

Federal cabinet ministers were also quick to denounce the policy, but cautioned that until the policy is actually brought forward, there isn’t anything for the government to take action against. 

“As a parent, my heart breaks for young 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Alberta who are being targeted by @ABDanielleSmith’s harmful and misguided policy. To trans and gender diverse youth: please know that we – and so many Canadians – stand with you and will stand up for your rights,” Justice Minister Arif Virani wrote on X.

Trans activist Fae Johnstone, founder of the advocacy group Queer Momentum denounced the policy and called on allies and the federal government to do more to protect trans youth.

“Conservative premiers are bullying trans kids. This whole issue has cast aside the humanity of transgender young people. Kids deserve better than this. Trans young people deserve to grow up in safe and supportive environments,” Johnstone wrote on X

Alberta’s new policies around trans youth and sexual orientation in schools are the most restrictive to be proposed in Canada but follow a growing trend among conservative-run provinces.

The policy around parental notification and consent surrounding name and pronoun use mirrors similar policies introduced in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick last year. The governments of Ontario and Quebec also announced similar policies would be forthcoming last year, but have not announced them yet. 

When a judge blocked the Saskatchewan policy as likely unconstitutional, the Saskatchewan government passed a bill that allows the policy to override the Charter of Rights, using a constitutional procedure that has seen growing use by Canada’s right-wing provincial governments in recent years. Smith did not rule out using the “notwithstanding” clause to shield the policy from judicial review.

There’s little evidence that these policies are popular among the mainstream in Canada. Last year, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government lost an election after campaigning on introducing a “parents’ rights” policy around trans students. New Brunswick will go to the polls later this year. 

In the northern Alberta town of Westlock, voters will weigh in on banning Pride flags on municipal property this month.

A hardcore base of anti-LGBT activists has grown in Canada in recent years, evolving out of the anti-vax and anti-lockdown movements, and it has been courted by conservative politicians. Smith welcomed these activists at the United Conservative Party of Alberta Convention last year, where they passed policy platforms calling for these policies.

Anti-trans activists also passed policy platforms at the federal Conservative Party convention last year calling for bans on trans people using women’s bathrooms and restricting gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Neither the federal Conservative Party nor its leader Pierre Poilievre have addressed the platform since it was passed. Smith has been explicitly courting the radical right for the last several years, recently appearing in public events across the province with disgraced former Fox News Host Tucker Carlson, disgraced transphobic former University of Toronto professor and current social media troll Jordan Peterson, and convicted fraudster and former owner of the right-wing National Post newspaper Conrad Black. (Black was pardoned by Donald Trump in 2019).

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith defends new gender policy amid criticism:

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Canadian town to hold referendum on banning the Pride flag

In the past, anti-LGBT politicians in Canada have objected to flying Pride flags by suggesting they set a precedent for allowing Nazi flags

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RF Staples School Thunder Alliance & Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada Pride crosswalk dedication, June 28 2023. (Photo Credit: Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada)

By Rob Salerno | WESTLOCK, Canada – The small town of Westlock, Alberta will hold a referendum on banning the display of Pride symbols and other flags on municipal property Feb 22, after anti-LGBT activists collected enough signatures to force the town of about 5000 people 50 miles north of Edmonton to hold a vote.

Anti-LGBT activists began agitating against Pride flags after the local high school’s gay-straight alliance asked the town council for permission to install a rainbow crosswalk in the town. The town council voted unanimously to allow the students to paint the crosswalk, over the objections of a handful of residents who attended council to speak against it.

The RF Staples School Thunder Alliance installed the crosswalk in June.

Referendums are relatively rare in Canada, but under Alberta law, municipalities are compelled to hold a referendum if at least 10 percent of residents sign a petition calling for one. Anti-LGBTQ+ activists collected 700 signatures by September.

At a town council meeting Nov 27, councilors voted to hold the referendum but spoke out strongly against the evident animus behind it.

“In my opinion, this is lipstick on bigotry,” Councilor Laura Morie said at the meeting.

The proposal would ban the display of any of “political, social, or religious movements or commercial entities,” from being displayed on municipal flagpoles or crosswalks, other than those relating to the national, provincial, or local government. 

The proposal has been written to be neutral on its face, but it is believed that the rainbow crosswalk is the only piece of municipal infrastructure that would be affected by the proposed ban. It would have to be removed if the referendum passes. 

The proposal could also impact other symbols – for example, the town would be forbidden from displaying flags related to Indigenous communities or the military, but this hasn’t been an issue for the town in the past.

Petition organizer Stephanie Bakker has been at pains to stress that her activism has been about forcing the government to be “neutral,” rather than specifically anti-LGBT, even though it was only the Pride crosswalk that motivated her to action. In a long blog post on her campaign group’s web site, she warns flag supporters that allowing the government to promote a group for equity reasons may be harmful down the road.

“Perhaps the government is choosing a group that you approve of to promote today. But what happens if a party you don’t like gets into office, and now they have the power of promotion and discrimination? Who will they decide is ‘worthy’ or ‘unworthy’?” Bakker writes. 

Bakker does not specify who or what other objectionable groups might be promoted by the municipal government down the road.

In the past, anti-LGBTQ+ politicians in Canada have objected to flying Pride flags by suggesting they set a precedent for allowing Nazi flags, a suggestion that has always been ludicrous.

If the referendum passes, Westlock would be the first city in Canada to remove a Pride crosswalk. 

Helen Kennedy, executive director of the Canadian LGBT advocacy group Egale says the Pride flag is an important symbol of solidarity and welcoming to members of the 2SLGBTQI community.

“When municipalities display Pride flags or paint crosswalks in rainbow colors, they signal that their cities and towns are committed to inclusivity, diversity, and the safety of all residents,” Kennedy says. “In times of rising hate against 2SLGBTQI people in Canada, the decision to prevent local governments from displaying visible symbols of solidarity with our communities is irresponsible and dangerous.”

Hate groups in Canada have stepped up actions against queer people recently, with small groups frequently targeting drag events and school board meetings across the country.

Last year, a Catholic school board in suburban Toronto banned the display of Pride flags in schools, but no local government in Canada has passed any similar ban.Earlier this month, Florida Republicans advanced a bill that would ban the display of Pride flags in schools and government property. It awaits votes in the state legislature.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Court in Canada finds “groomer” slur not protected speech

Courts have been consistent that public interest is served by fighting homophobia as drag events get increasing ire from anti-LGBTQ activists

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Ontario Superior Court Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada (Photo Credit: Alison Schnarr/Government of Ontario-Courts)

By Rob Salerno | ONTARIO, Canada – A court in Ontario, Canada has ruled that a defamation case can go ahead against a man who publicly called a drag performer and a queer community organization “groomers,” deciding that there was no public interest served in protecting baseless allegations of sexual abuse against queer and trans people.

The case occurred in Dryden, Ontario, a city of 7,000 people about 1,000 miles northwest of Toronto in September 2022. After CBC News reported on threats being made to a drag story hour at the local library, a local blogger named Brian Webster posted accusations that the performers involved were “groomers” and insinuating that they intended to sexually abuse children on his Facebook Page “Real Thunder Bay Courthouse – Inside Edition.”

What followed were violent threats made by Webster’s 6,500 followers and a series of disturbing placards placed around town accusing the performers of being pedophiles. 

The Rainbow Alliance Dryden and drag king Jack Doff decided to fight back and launched a defamation suit against Webster. They’re each seeking $95,000 in general and punitive damages, as well as additional special damages.

Webster sought to block the suit by invoking Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and anti-SLAPP laws are meant to protect free speech and political participation by limiting defamation suits that arise from discussions over matters of public interest.

But in her December 14 decision, Ontario Superior Court Justice Nieckarz shot that down, ruling that baseless allegations that queer people are pedophiles or “groomers” are not matters of public interest that are protected by anti-SLAPP laws. That allows the defamation suit to go forward. Nieckarz also found that the plaintiffs’ case had “substantial merit” and would therefore be likely to succeed.

“I simply cannot find any public interest in protecting a harmful trope that associates 2SLGBTQI people with sexual predation against children. On the other hand, there is considerable public interest in allowing individuals who are the victims of such conduct to publicly defend their reputation in a court of law,” Nieckarz writes in her decision.

Separately, Webster is also facing a defamation case in Thunder Bay, Ontario, about 200 miles east, arising from similar comments he’s made about the queer and trans community there on the same Facebook page.

The Canadian 2SLGBTQI advocacy group Egale celebrated the court’s decision, after it had intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“This is an important decision for 2SLGBTQI communities that comes at a time when we are facing unprecedented levels of hate, harassment, and violence fuelled by the spread of misinformation and disinformation,” Egale said in a statement released on its website. “Because false accusations of pedophilia have been weaponized against 2SLGBTQI people to deny members of our communities equal rights and opportunities for decades, the law must allow people being targeted by these homophobic and transphobic myths to pursue defamation claims.” 

The decision builds upon recent jurisprudence in Canada affirming the right of queer people to defend themselves against baseless allegations and homophobia. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada approved an anti-SLAPP application brought by a former British Columbia teachers’ union president who was being sued by a former school board trustee whom he had accused of making hateful, transphobic statements. 

The courts have been consistent that the public interest is served by fighting homophobia and transphobia.

But drag events have drawn increasing ire from anti-LGBT agitators in Canada over the past year, including threats of violence and intimidation. Canadian anti-LGBT activists are also increasingly coordinating their efforts nationally, teaming up with other far-right extremists and anti-vaxxers, and gaining the attention of Canada’s federal and provincial Conservative parties to bring their agenda into the mainstream.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Libs of TikTok targets nonbinary teacher in British Columbia

Officers with the RCMP issued a warning to woman who had been harassing officials at her daughter’s school over a non-binary teacher

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Photo Credit: Pitt Meadows Secondary School, Pitt Meadows, BC, Canada

By Rob Salerno | Vancouver, Canada – Officers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued a warning to woman who had been harassing officials at her daughter’s school over a non-binary teacher. The woman’s complaint about the teacher had been picked up and propagated by the homophobic Chaya Raichik, the former New York City real estate agent behind the social media account Libs of TikTok, who then amplified harassment of school officials.

The woman, who goes by the Twitter handle @BlondeBigot11, claims her daughter was criticized by her art teacher at Pitt Meadows Secondary School in suburban Vancouver, Canada for misgendering them. 

The teacher, who the Blade has decided not to name, is a non-binary performing artist whom the woman claims had a public Instagram account where the teacher posted images that displayed their mastectomy scars. 

By her account, she had asked the school principal to discipline the teacher and require them to make their Instagram account private. When the school refused, she told her story to LibsOfTikTok, which posted her version of events, along with photos from the teacher’s Instagram account and links to the school and school district’s Twitter accounts. 

Libs Of TikTok frequently directs its followers to the social media accounts, contact information, and addresses of the LGBT people and allies that they demonize, which opponents say is a tacit encouragement to direct harassment and violence at them. For its part, Libs Of TikTok creator Chaya Riachik claims she condemns violence and threats, but has celebrated the fact that her posts frequently generate them.

In apparent response to the attention from LibsOfTikTok, Pitt Meadows Secondary School deactivated its Twitter account, the school district has made its account private, and the teacher has set their Instagram account to private.

@BlondeBigot11 claims that the RCMP then called her and told her that the school officials felt “unsafe” because of her actions, and that she could be arrested and charged with “uttering threats,” if she continued to speak out against the school and teacher.

In an email to the school principal, which she has posted to Twitter, @BlondeBigot11 says, “I’m not going to stop. You’re not scaring or intimidating me. If anything you’ve strengthened my resolve, and a lawyer has been contacted.”

In another tweet, @BlondeBigot11 acknowledges that no other parents have joined her in her concerns about the teacher. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the woman known only as “@BlondeBigot11” describes herself in her Twitter profile as “A little further to the right than the far right extremists” and fills her Twitter page with racist anti-Semitic, and transphobic memes, anti-vax conspiracy theories, and complaints about Pride flags and non-white children in public schools.  

Requests for comment from the RCMP went unanswered before press time. When contacted about this story, Pitt Meadows Secondary School directed the Blade to the school district, which did not respond to a voicemail before press time.  

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.


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Anti-LGBTQ protestor flips tractor in high-speed chase in Canada

Earlier this week, anti-SOGI protesters launched a recall campaign against BC Education Minister Rachna Singh

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An anti-LGBTQ+ protestor driving a tractor trailer on a highway in suburban Vancouver, dramatically flipped and rolled his tractor off the highway while engaging in a high speed chase with British Columbia Highway Patrol on Nov. 26, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube CTV News)

By Rob Salerno | VANCOUVER, Canada – An anti-LGBTQ+ protestor driving a tractor trailer on a highway in suburban Vancouver, dramatically flipped and rolled his tractor off the highway while engaging in a high speed chase with British Columbia Highway Patrol on Saturday, November 25 that was caught on video.

The tractor driver, who has been identified as Chilliwack resident Bill Shoker, was participating in a “Stop SOGI-123 Road Rally” to from Chilliwack to Vancouver, about 60 miles west, to protest the province’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI-123) curriculum, which is used in public schools to promote inclusion of LGBTQ+ students and families. 

BC Highway Patrol say they attempted a traffic stop, but the tractor struck the police vehicle.

Video of the incident shows the tractor repeatedly coming into contact with a BC Highway Patrol vehicle on Highway 15 in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, before it flips over while attempting to use the exit to Highway 1. 

The Lower Mainland’s Integrated Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Service, which investigates collisions involving police, is investigating the incident.

When the tractor flipped, Shoker was thrown from the tractor’s sunroof. He was arrested by police and taken to hospital for his injuries.

Shoker’s wife Manjit told Global News that her husband was in awaiting surgery for his injuries and may have a broken backbone. Manjit says Shoker has participated in several anti-SOGI protests. 

Although the SOGI-123 curriculum is several years old, protests against it have increased in frequency and intensity in the past year among an extremist coalition that has grown out of anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown campaigns.  

Protests against sex education curriculums in schools have occurred across Canada regularly over the past few months, although they are usually outnumbered by counter-protesters who support LGBT inclusion.

Earlier this week, anti-SOGI protesters launched a recall campaign against BC Education Minister Rachna Singh. The recall campaign has until January 29 to collect signatures from 40% of the registered voters in her district for the recall election to go ahead. There has never been a successful recall campaign in British Columbia.

“SOGI-123 … [is] on the surface there to keep everyone inclusive and safe. But we believe it’s a Trojan Horse. Its real agenda is to indoctrinate straight children, to put ideas in their mind that they may not be male or female, they might be somewhere in the middle,” recall campaign spokesperson Amrit Birring told CBC News.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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