Hundreds in Fort McMurray join national protests over gender, sexual education in schools

The Fort McMurray protest dwarfed past rallies against COVID-19 restrictions in the community.

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Hundreds of people marched through downtown Fort McMurray to protest how sex and gender are taught in classrooms. Protesters spent much of Wednesday carrying signs and shouting slogans against alternative pronouns in schools, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) education.

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Dozens of similar rallies happened across Canada in cities and towns under the banner “1 Million March 4 Children.” Children at the protest were given hardhats that said “hands off our kids” and encouraged to yell “leave us alone!”

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The Fort McMurray protest was larger than most past rallies against COVID-19 restrictions. Roughly half of the protesters were Muslim. Catholics, Christians of various denominations, Hindus and people who were not religious joined them.

The local protest was led by Zulkifl Mujahid, who ran locally as an Independent candidate in the May 2023 election after he was removed as a candidate by the UCP, and resident Connie Shields. Councillor Shafiq Dogar was the only elected official at the protest.

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“This is a great community, Canada is a great country but we want to preserve our values and our values which is based on our faith and also our culture,” said Dogar, who added he did not believe anyone will be upset with his participation in the rally.

Shields denied the movement was bigoted towards the 2SLGBTQI+ community and said two of her children are part of the community. Mujahid said the protesters’ thoughts are summarized as “they don’t want sexual orientation in schools. That’s it. Period. We don’t want sexual orientation in schools.”

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Protesters gather outside the Fort McMurray Public School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

No confrontations between protesters, counter protesters

Protesters started at the Jubilee Centre, marched towards the Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD) on Hardin Street than the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD) on Main Street. Mujahid and Wood Buffalo RCMP stopped protesters from entering the FMPSD building as children opened the front doors and screamed “leave us alone!” FMCSD locked their doors when protesters arrived.

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There were no violent clashes with defenders of 2SLGBTQI+ education. Pride YMM, which advocates for the 2SLGBTQI+ in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, said in a statement they intentionally did not organize counter protests. They feared this would put members at risk, but also felt it would draw attention to the protesters and encourage students to miss school.

“Every queer community member in the RMWB deserves to be uplifted, not to be the target of hate and a stigmatizing misinformation campaign,” they said.

“Every student deserves the right to learn in safe classrooms where their names and pronouns are respected, where they have equal access to use a safe bathroom, where they are free to be their authentic selves without fear of discrimination or harm, and where queer and trans students are never outed without their consent.”

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However, two counter protesters arrived at the rally. Messages supporting the 2SLGBTQI+ community were written in chalk outside the Jubilee Centre.

One counter protester tried drowning out the protesters with music from bluetooth speaker and shouted slogans like “hate doesn’t come from God!” Children and protesters shouted back “leave us alone!” and “hands off our kids!”

Another counter protester waved a Pride flag while some protesters screamed at him to leave. A few people driving by gave protesters a middle finger. But the sounds of horns honking in support of the rally echoed across downtown.

When protesters returned to the Jubilee Centre, a group of children cheered as they approached a chalk drawing of the Progress Pride Flag and threw water and water bottles at it, spat on it, and threw dirt and rocks at it. One woman told the children not to litter or trample on the flowers.

Otherwise, no one stopped them.

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Zulkifl Mujahid and Connie Shields lead protesters outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Zulkifl Mujahid and Connie Shields lead protesters outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
protest
A man protests against the 1 Million March 4 Children outside the Jubilee Centre on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters march through downtown Fort McMurray in the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters march through downtown Fort McMurray in the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Children scream “leave us alone!” into the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Children scream “leave us alone!” into the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
protesters
Protesters gather outside the Fort McMurray Public School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters outside the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters outside the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Police officers stop protesters from entering the Fort McMurray Public School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Police officers stop protesters from entering the Fort McMurray Public School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Police officers stop protesters from entering the Fort McMurray Public School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Police officers stop protesters from entering the Fort McMurray Public School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters outside the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters outside the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
protest
A child dumps water on a chalk drawing of the Progress Pride Flag outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A child spits at a chalk drawing of the Progress Pride Flag outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A child spits at a chalk drawing of the Progress Pride Flag outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
protest
A child throws rocks and mud at a chalk drawing of the Progress Pride Flag outside the Jubilee Centre during the 1 Million March 4 Children on September 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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