Intense counter-protests erupted in front of two west-end Ottawa schools Tuesday after a man stood outside the schools and protested the use of puberty blockers for children who identify as transgender.
For two days this week, students at Broadview Public School and Nepean High School have been greeted by Chris Elston, a man who has travelled across the country sharing his concerns about whether transgender children can consent to hormone blockers that delay signs of puberty.
He's worn sandwich boards outside the neighbouring schools with messages like "Children are never born in the wrong body," which have been met with criticism from transgender activists.
"It's an anti-trans position, because it's saying young trans individuals don't have the autonomy to decide they don't want to undergo a puberty that is not going to align with their gender identity," said Lyra Evans, an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustee and trans woman.
Last year in Vancouver, Elston paid for a billboard that expressed support for author JK Rowling, who has also been criticized for being transphobic.
However, Elston insists his message isn't transphobic and is often misunderstood.
"I love these kids. I love all these kids. All these people that were out today, I mean, it's a bit of a mob mentality, right?" he said.
"Most of them don't even know what I stand for, but I think gender non-conformity is beautiful."
On Tuesday, Elston made two different appearances in front of Broadview Public School. He was joined by two supporters in the afternoon.
They were instantly greeted by a counter-protest featuring hundreds of students and parents holding signs, chanting and calling his message hateful and unwelcome.
As Elston's party walked by the school, the protesters swarmed them, yelling "leave our city" and "trans rights are human rights."
"He claims that trans lives matter and then shows a complete and utter disrespect for all of their autonomy and their actual thoughts," said Nepean High School student Nerisse Kazmierski.
"Kids know themselves, and he shouldn't be going around trying to tell them who they are and who they shouldn't be."
Christian Wright, who organized the counter-protest, said it was "important for me as a trans person and as an organizer of a queer organization to be out here supporting trans kids and protecting trans kids and showing them that they're loved and supported in our community."
Elston walked silently through the crowd, holding up his phone and presumably filming the protestors around him.
Police were on scene to help block traffic but did not interfere with the protest until the end, when Elston's sign was taken from him and destroyed by the crowd.
Immediately after, Elston returned to his car and drove away, while protesters marched back towards the schools.
In a statement, the OCDSB wrote "students, families, and staff of all gender identities and expressions have the right to feel physically and emotionally safe, welcomed and accepted at school."
It then called on anyone who witnesses or experiences "hate or discrimination" to report it to staff, a principal, or the office of the human rights and equity advisor.
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