Analysis: Counter-protest opposes far-right transphobic mobilization at Surrey Pride
On Saturday, June 24, a far-right transphobic mobilization showed up to protest the Pride party in Surrey, British Columbia. The right managed to pull out a motley crew of about 30 angry and aggressive figures spewing a range of hateful messages. Their messaging displayed the smorgasbord of recent far-right talking points in Canada—anti-trans, anti-critical race theory, ending social justice education in schools, parental control of children, a particular version of Christianity, and Canadian nationalism. And, of course, support for police—as is often said, “Cops and klan go hand in hand.”
The right-wing event did not go unchallenged, however. A counterdemonstration called by Surrey Dyke March organizers turned out equal numbers to face off against the hate mongers and put out a joyful message of love, solidarity, and communal defense to the community, passersby, and Pride attendees. The counter-protesters sent a message that hate and fascism are not welcome in Surrey, and they will not pass unopposed.
The Freedom Party of British Columbia Rally
The anti-Pride, anti-trans protest was organized by the Freedom Party of BC, a fringiest-of-the-fringe far-right political party. Their event was promoted as a “Rally to Protest Sexualization of Children in BC Public Schools, and Destroying the Concept of Gender.” Their call was to remove the Pride flag or to add a strange “Family Flag.” They have managed to pull together a mixed bag of right-wing supporters.
On their website, the Freedom Party defines freedom as “Freedom of choice for childrens’ education free of indoctrination, Freedom of Canadian housing only for Canadians, Freedom from over taxing by government, Freedom of religious places out of government control, Freedom of media companies out of government control, Freedom of movement, Freedom from government surveillance, and Freedom of owning firearms.”
A big part of their anger is directed at social justice education in schools. Their platform states: “Our young children will not be manipulated into consenting for sex change surgeries and puberty blockers. BC Schools will not be used for child abuse via trojan horse of SOGI and Critical Race Theory.”
They also oppose basic acknowledgement of colonial occupation and dispossession, calling for an end even to land acknowledgements in schools, which they pose as guilt tripping children: “We will not put guilt in our children by forcing them to recite every morning that they live on unceded and stolen land. It does not help anyone.”
This meshes with their support for extractive capital and developmentalism: “We will support and cherish our natural resource industry. All help will be provided to develop them.” This goes hand in hand with climate change denialism: “Investigate climate change deception by the authorities. But do we really have a man made climate change or is it merely a natural phenomenon.”
Underlying much of their focus on education is their view that children are the property of parents. Their platform states: “Fundamentally, children belong to parents, not Governments. Parents make best decisions for their children.”
Drawing on far Right tropes about “COVID tyranny” they say, if elected, “All involved in covid tyranny will be held accountable and criminally prosecuted.”
Many of these messages were on display during their protest. Signs expressed the gamut of far-right concerns. One of the more telling ones was a large sign in support of police and promoting the so-called police for freedom, RCMP for freedom groups of cops supporting the far-right convoy actions.
One character wore a Canada shirt in which the C was represented as a hammer and sickle. Of course, anti-communism is a central part of far-right movements and their propaganda.
Canadian nationalism was also fully on display. They started their speeches with one of the worst renditions of Oh Canada I have ever heard (given that it is such a lousy song to begin with, that is saying something). Several displayed or wore Canadian flags.
And this highlights a central point of current far-right movements in Canada. While espousing opposition to authoritarianism and speaking of freedom, and freedom from tyranny, these are at heart authoritarian movements. Far from being opposed to the state, they desire a strong state acting to repress their opponents and impose their hyper (often Christian) nationalism.
This is evident in their expressed support for police—but a policing that is aligned with their specific interests. Thus, their call for a provincial police force in British Columbia that can, in their view, escape the interests of “liberal Ottawa.” The Freedom Party, for example, proposes to “Make sure the RCMP is not enforcing the Federal Government’s agenda on British Columbians’ Freedoms.” This is a Canadian expression of what in the US is called “state’s rights.” For the far right in BC they see a move away from the RCMP (otherwise a good thing to be sure) as a step in this larger political program of de-linking the province from what they perceive as progressive federal policies.
The far-right vision of the family and attacks on LGBTQ2S+ families can also be understood in statist terms. They are proposing a limited, state sanctioned view of a particular, heteronormative, nuclear, Eurocentric, family—a family as delimited in family law, official marriage, inheritance rights, etc. With children and youth as subservient property of parents.
Organizing Against the Far Right in Surrey
The far right, in Canada and beyond, has seen some successes and growth over the last few years weaving these disparate issues together in their own brand of response in a context of austerity capitalism. Partly this reflects a failure of the left to offer effective alternatives and opposition of their own—particularly in the fallout of neoliberal restructuring under and after COVID.
Often overlooked by activists in other areas, including Vancouver, the far right has been organizing for years in the Fraser Valley, from Surrey to Chilliwack. For several years, we confronted an active Soldiers of Odin group. They attempted to turn unhoused people against migrants in Surrey. The far right has also run candidates in elections in Surrey. Following the lead of right-wingers elsewhere, they have targeted school board elections, aiming to end sex ed, gender studies, anti-racism, and social justice classes. Far-right and transphobic figures like Lauren Southern and “Billboard Chris” (Chris Elston) have operated out of Surrey.
Organizing in Surrey often means being marginalized, in the shadows of downtown Vancouver (some of whose activists still view Surrey as far away and/or scary). This is a challenge too often faced by organizers in the 'burbs. And the far right have certainly played some of this to their advantage.
But the far right must be openly opposed wherever and whenever they manifest themselves. Several folks on their way to Pride told us they felt anxious and worried when they saw the anti-Pride crew as they approached—until they saw our counter-protest. And we are here—an active and growing core of anti-fascist, anti-police organizers who are queer, trans, anarchist, socialist, working class. And we keep each other safe.