Oak Bay was the centre of a heated protest on Thursday night as hundreds of allies and members of the LGTBQ community gathered outside, and inside, the Windsor Pavillion room in response to a Jenn Smith presentation called The Erosion of Freedom.
The presentation was eventually shut down by Oak Bay Police as arguments escalated to a point of pushing and shoving, said Chief Andy Brinton.
“We couldn’t let it escalate any more than it was, without risk to public safety issues,” he said. “It’s no mystery that there was the potential for issues, so we thought it would be appropriate to have a presence and not allow it to grow into anything.”
At that point the building emptied quickly and smoothly, he added.
It’s the biggest protest of any kind in Oak Bay that Brinton’s seen in his five years.
Oak Bay Police actually had four plain clothes officers there from the beginning in anticipation of public safety issues.
“Sending uniforms can sometimes excite things and we wanted a low profile,” Brinton said. “At one point the place was full, we had additional officers attend and closed the event off.”
By then people were in the foyer and stairway, and under fire regulations they shut it down.
It was Oak Bay Police’s first encounter with members of Soldiers of Odin in Oak Bay, as the SOO group took up a role as providing security for Smith.
Smith was identified by the protesters for his stance against the newly updated B.C. education curriculum called SOGI 123, which stands for sexual orientation and gender identity. In a response on Friday morning Smith said it was actually him being “bullied” and that the presentation was only partially about SOGI 123.
He suggested instead that the LGBTQ community ushered in “a form of soft totalitarianism,” referring to the dozens of protesters who made their way in to sit-in on Smith’s presentation. (The talk did go ahead inside a small room in the Windsor Pavilion, but the speakers could hardly be heard over the chants, songs and whistles of the protesters filling the room and the field below, the Oak Bay News reported).
“A massive mob was assembled to shut down hate speech that did not exist,” Smith claimed. “Those claiming to support love and inclusion and toleration, showered me with hatred, intolerance, and exclusion.”
Victoria was the event’s final Vancouver Island stop after hosting in Campbell River, Duncan and Nanaimo.
Despite Smith’s claims, the protesters were adamant that in fact Smith normalizes hurtful speech that is indefensible by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Greater Victoria School District trustee Ryan Painter, who helped organize the protest, said that Smith is promoting misinformation about SOGI 123 that is inaccurate.
“SOGI 123 is an educational guide that helps close a gap for teachers to welcome all students,” Painter said.
– With files from Nina Grossman