On November 25, around 30 people rallied outside a Catholic high school in Renfrew, Ontario, against trans girls using the women’s washroom. While officially, it was called by a Grade 11 student, it brought out a mix of their local and big-city far right. The poster for the event had the logos for Freedom Fighters Canada, Save Canada, and Ontario Party, a few of the many groups that have come from the anti-mandate movement. The organizer’s own social media also makes it clear that he’s familiar and integrated with the far-right ecosystem of the Ottawa occupation.
Leading up to the date, local Pride groups put out a call for a counter-demonstration. The day before, many local LGBTQ+ youth enthusiastically gathered for a poster-making session. Some of those youth left signs for other people to carry at the demo, their way of sharing their voices without being there in person. Following recent events in Hamilton and Oakville, some independent leftist queers in Ottawa decided to mobilize people from the city in support. After reaching out to those Renfrew organizers, we secured funding to charter a bus down. With less than a day’s notice, we filled that bus with 30 people, plus a few more separate cars. Added to the locals, our side outnumbered theirs at least 3 to 1. Total estimates of our people were anywhere between 90 and a couple hundred.
Traffic median. Single red-hatted white boy on a box with a mic stand and two big speakers.
An organizer setting up the makeshift sound stage before the demonstration began.
The “anti-woke” crowd set up first on the traffic median with their makeshift sound stage, and we took the side of the street that led into school property. As our numbers grew, this meant that we spread across all sides of the intersection, essentially circling them in. Our music and chants and the raging wind meant that the fash were largely drowned out; we blocked the wind from our mic with a wool sock. Unlike many of the demos and counterdemos in bigger cities these past few years, there was no line of cops to keep us apart, though people mostly let the road stand between us. While the OPP contacted organizers and sent a few uniformed and plainclothes officers into the crowd, they were surprisingly hands off this time round.
Aside from a few anti-trans demonstrators who crossed over to try to taunt us, the two rallies went on with little incident. Those few fash turned back as soon as they stopped finding targets for their “debates.” Here, we reiterate that the far right has no interest in genuine free speech or exchanging of ideas. Though it’s tempting to believe that these people simply don’t know better, they are never acting in good faith. The cameras they shove into your face are taking footage that they’ll use to chop up your words beyond recognition and dox you as a dangerous predator, terrorist, etc. Even if they can be talked out of the cult, that process takes place among their friends and family, not at the action.
As the fash get bolder everywhere we turn, it’s more important than ever to build strong relationships across distance and bridge the gap between urban and rural organizers. Renfrew is a small town of less than 10,000 people, about an hour west of Ottawa. Much of the anti-trans side drove in from elsewhere, but there was still a core local crew of younger students and other neighbourhood fash. All this brings a somewhat different set of considerations for us, especially as largely folks from out of town.
Crowd of fascists with a bunch of Canadian flags and signs about fake news and bible quotes.
Another shot of the crowd on the median.
In these small rural communities, it’s common for everyone to already know each other’s names and faces — both among our own side, and when it comes to the cops and fash. That means that for many locals, typical security protocols like not talking to cops won’t change that the state’s enforcers are already well aware of who they are. As guests, this might also mean honouring a diversity of tactics while asking ourselves if we’re about to start fights that we’re leaving others to have to finish. To be clear, peace policing and “outside agitator” hysteria is always complete and utter bullshit. At the same time, we should remember that when the youth we’re here to support already know some of the faces across the street, the struggle doesn’t end for them just because we’ve gone back home. Our rural-raised comrades remind us, too, that there’s often a sense of resentment towards city people for parachuting into their communities and insisting we know best. These are just a few reflections we want to offer in the interest of fostering future collaboration between our communities while keeping us all safe from the threats of state and extrastate violence.
Finally, we want to share some links with a reminder and a call to action: the rise of anti-trans and COVID conspiracy movements is a product of the white supremacist operating logics of this settler colony called Canada. In response to that, cops will never keep us safe; we do.
See Gay Mafia Protection Racket for the links: