Pro-SOGI rallies planned as controversial talk goes ahead in Oak Bay
Despite a push to cancel it, Oak Bay says it will allow a controversial speaker to hold a talk criticizing B.C. schools' sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) program.
Jenn Smith is scheduled to speak at the Windsor Pavilion on Thursday in a talk titled "The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children."
Smith, who identifies as transgender, has already been touring around Vancouver Island to places like Campbell River and Duncan.
Opponents accuse Smith of promoting transphobic hate speech in his talks and asked the District of Oak Bay to prevent him from speaking.
"The language that this group uses, it traffics in fear, it traffics in anger, it traffics in division and fundamentally, it traffics in hatred," said Ryan Painter, an organizer for Pro-SOGI 123 Oak Bay.
Smith's speaking tour includes criticisms of the B.C. school system's anti-bullying and SOGI 123 program, which is designed to support LGBTQ students. It's a program Smith says is "brainwashing" students.
"SOGI 123 has aspects about it that are virtually indistinguishable from brainwashing," he told CTV News. "They are romanticizing a false idea in their heads. They are telling confused young kids that boys can be girls."
Amid major concerns and backlash from the community about the talk, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch and council sought legal advice on whether they could cancel the event.
In the end, they were advised Smith's talks are not legally deemed hate speech.
"All the information that we have seen on this particular event does not quality as hate speech in Canada," said Murdoch. "So it may be seen as distasteful and inappropriate, but under our current policies under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms we are essentially obligated to let it go forward."
Smith calls allegations that his event promotes hate speech false.
Meanwhile, two other rival rallies denouncing the event are taking place the same night, including one at Willows Beach organized by Murdoch, who said he wants his community to know diversity and inclusion are valued in Oak Bay.
"Just because something is not recognized legally as hate speech, it doesn't mean that it's not very hurtful and often very threatening to people who are in a vulnerable place in their lives," said Murdoch.
The other rally will be held just a few blocks away from the Windsor Pavilion and is expecting as many as 1,000 people.
"Really our event is about love," said Painter. "It's about showing love and inclusion to the LGBTQ community and especially LGBTQ youth. They need our love, they need our support."
Oak Bay council says it's going to re-evaluate its policy for who can use public places for talks in the future.
The SOGI 123 program was introduced in B.C. schools in 2016, and encourages openness and respect for everyone in the classroom, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.