Organizers had guaranteed that the second 1 Million March 4 Children, set to take place Oct. 21, would be bigger than the first, expanding all the way into the United States.
But just weeks after Kamel El-Cheikh, the chairman of Hands Off Our Kids, made that boast in an interview with the YouTube channel Clyde Do Something, the organization announced Wednesday that marches in Ottawa and several other cities were cancelled, vaguely pointing to “unforeseen circumstances” and safety reasons.
“From the start, the 1 Million March has been internally disorganized, and prone to infighting as their white supremacist members clash with their Muslim conservative members,” Matteo L. Cerilli, a founding member of Students for Queer Liberation Toronto, explained to Xtra on Wednesday.
This doesn’t mean that the protests are at all cancelled, however. The Facebook page 1 Million March for Children posted an update saying that they were “a grassroots movement” that didn’t belong to any particular group and that “all marches are still a go.”
Counter-protests are also still happening. Organizer Emma Maerten tells Xtra that a counter-protest in Halifax, for example, will still be going on.
Cerilli tells Xtra that Hands Off Our Kids’ announcement hasn’t affected the group’s plans, either. “We still plan to counter,” Cerilli says. “Just as our protest is comprised of many groups, so is the 1 Million March—even if Hands Off Our Kids pulls out entirely (which might not be the case—individual members may still show up), there are other groups who will still be there.”
Still, despite the clear intentions of groups to protest and counter-protest, it isn’t entirely clear how many people will show up.
“We cannot predict turnouts in cities across Canada,” says Elizabeth Simons, the deputy director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN). “There is a lot of confusion, and the situation is fluid. Communities should prepare to counter-protest as safely as possible in their cities.”
Cerilli echoes this.
“We can’t promise numbers,” he says. “There are a thousand factors that go into it, from which subways are down, to the weather. In September, the far-right protestors had about 400 to 500 [in Toronto], and we had about 1,000. We’re hoping for that same ratio, if not better, from our side. Still, I worry that the weekend date will bring out more of the far-right protestors who were working during the last one. We really need people to show up for us. We can’t tire out.”
Although it isn’t clear how many protestors will show up, the motivations of this group of marches and the previous one remains the same. As with the previous 1 Million March 4 Children, this group of marches is sponsored by a confusing array of groups, including “Christian Nationalists, conservative Muslims, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, sovereign citizens, anti-public education activists,” Hazel Woodrow at CAHN tells Xtra.
In Ottawa, a similar group calling itself the Save the Children Convoy has also kicked off an ongoing protest near Parliament Hill. The convoy, organized by several groups with connections to last year’s Freedom Convoy protests, is protesting similar issues like comprehensive sex education in schools, while also promoting more fringe far-right conspiracy theories about mass abductions and grooming—and is also rife with infighting. It’s unclear if anyone from the new convoy is directly involved with the 1 Million March protestors.
“Essentially, what these people are saying is that children are our property, and we get to determine how we raise them,” Fareed Khan, the founder of the Canadians United Against Hate, told Xtra in a phone call on Tuesday. “And if that means denying their rights, denying their reality, that’s their right as parents. Frankly, that’s absolutely insane.”
Sources that Xtra spoke to also pointed to other context that may be fuelling the marches. Simons says that the introduction of transphobic legislation in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan could further embolden protesters. Khan says that the protests, too, exist in a context in which right-wing politicians are stirring up transphobia to accrue power and distract from scandals.
“Whether it’s LGBTQ2S+ people now, Muslims a few years ago, Indigenous people going further back, right-wing politicians will use the most reprehensible tactics in order to gain power,” Khan says. “This is the playbook of the far-right: you put ideas out there that are so egregious and outrageous, but there will be people out there who agree with you, and this will bolster your own support.”
As for Students for Queer Liberation Toronto, they’re developing their own tactics related to their march: helping people protest in groups, telling them to mask up, advising them against filming anyone but cops. Cerilli speculates that Hands Off Our Kids—a group with Muslim leadership—is stepping back to focus on Palestine or because the 1 Million March 4 Kids is full of nationalist groups who are often Islamophobic.
“I just know that fascist groups turn on their most marginalized members first. Maybe Hands Off Our Kids is starting to feel the tide turn on them,” Cerilli says.
“SQL is student-run, which means many in our membership aren’t long out of their high school days—we’re the kids these people claim they’re marching for,” Cerilli says. “We want to stand against them and say we’re healthy, we’re alive and we’re happy as trans and queer people. And when people are making their kids hold up signs that say they’re property, I think the bravest thing we can do is show those kids what real youth autonomy looks like.”