A significant grassroots defence action took place in Montréal on October 21, 2023, to block a reactionary movement opposing inclusive and diverse sex education in public schools in Québec and Canada.
The key local group, Ensemble pour protéger nos enfants (EPPNE), which is mainly made up of Muslim parents with conservative values, is on the fringes of the national 1 Million March 4 Children (1MM4C) network. This decentralised coalition, which is partly rooted in conspiracy theory circles, occupies a space adjacent to certain extreme right-wing currents and includes a large number of participants who are more or less openly transphobic, queerphobic, and homophobic. After an initial successful demonstration downtown on September 20, EPPNE/1MM4C planned a rally in front of the Québec Ministère de l’Éducation (600 rue Fullum) in the Centre-Sud district, intending to follow their rally with a march, possibly through the Village, a neighbourhood where Montréal’s LGBTQ+ communities have historically been concentrated.
The LGBTQ+ defence action, supported by the antifascist community and a considerable number of allied organizations, succeeded in routing and overshadowing the reactionary demonstration. On the other side of the fence, alongside the Muslim organisers, we recognised figures linked to the Islamophobic formations that Montréal Antifasciste has mapped over the last few years, e.g., La Meute and la Vague bleue.
What follows is an in-depth report on this grassroots self-defence action. (You can also read the P!nk Bloc’s report, here.)
Warning : This article contains homophobic, transphobic, antisemitic, and Islamophobic elements.
This following document is in no way meant as an attack on Québec’s Muslim communities or on the Muslim faith as such. It is important to remember that these communities, like all communities, are plural, diverse, and sometimes fraught with contradictions. There are many progressive organizations and, it should go without saying, numerous sexual- and gender-diverse people in these communities.
The Montréal Antifasciste collective takes this opportunity to reiterate its solidarity with Muslim communities targeted by hatred and discrimination in Québec and by discriminatory laws depriving them of certain fundamental rights via the misuse of a reductionist secularism.
That said, we will not tolerate other communities we stand in solidarity with—e.g., the LGBTQ+ communities, and specifically young queer and trans people—being demonized, targeted for discrimination, and deprived of fundamental rights.
First the context
For several years, ultraconservative movements in North America have been on the offensive, seeking to roll back the rights of women and sexual and gender minorities. By joining forces with the MAGA movement and infiltrating various levels of government in the United States, for example, reactionary currents have succeeded in recent years in advancing legislation to limit access to abortion or even make it illegal and to deprive certain minorities of acquired rights.
This puritanical backlash coincides with the resurgence of so-called “conspiracy theory” movements, which have succeeded in inculcating a number of out-of-touch paranoid obsessions into North American society, including the “grooming panic,” the idea that more or less occult forces—but in particular sexual and gender minorities—aim to “sexualize” underage people in order to exploit them (and corrupt the mores of society as a whole, eventually wiping out Western civilization!). It’s within this conspiratorial framework, for example, that the various protests against drag queen story hours have recently been organized in Québec and elsewhere in Canada.
In recent months, some morally conservative segments of Canada’s Muslim communities have joined this movement, specifically targeting the sex education programs that are part of the curricula of public education systems, which are seen as too progressive by the more moderate element and as a clear sign of the notorious “pedosatanist” conspiracy by the wackier fringes. The basic reasoning behind this movement is that diversity-inclusive sex education is part of a deliberate strategy to undermine “parental rights” and “sexualize” children, a recurring theme shared by contemporary conspiracy fantasies and extreme right-wing movements.
This is essentially a moral stance against diversity and inclusion and in favor of obscurantism in matters of sexual and gender diversity. In the final analysis, we believe this movement serves to (re)demonize the groups targeted, to (re)marginalize them, and, ultimately, to deprive them of the freedom and relative security they have won at great cost in recent decades. Worse still, it serves to deprive young people of an essential education that has been shown to save lives and contribute to the health and well-being of many young people.
The 1 Million March for Children” (1MM4C) network, which was formed in 2023, brings together a broad spectrum of participants, ranging from run-of-the-mill opponents of the health measures associated with the so-called “freedom convoy,” i.e., “anti-vaxxers,” through Muslim parents worried about the moral integrity of their children to a multitude of conspiracy theory network regulars, as well as unaffiliated individuals who have been sucked into the spiral of disinformation at the heart of this moral panic movement.
September 20, 2023
On September 20, 2023, a series of coordinated 1MM4C protests took place in a number of Canadian cities, ostensibly to oppose sex education programs in public schools (what opponents call SOGI, after a program of that name implemented in British Columbia). In Montréal, the rally was called for 9:00 a.m. in front of the Québec Premier’s office on rue McGill College, with a march through downtown streets scheduled for 11:00 a.m.
In response, a counterdemonstration was organized by queer and trans rights activists. From 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., the counterdemonstrators clearly outnumbered the 1MM4C protesters, prematurely fuelling the impression of a decisive victory. However, beginning a 10:00 a.m., successive waves swelled the ranks of the reactionary rally, with demonstrators arriving by metro, as well as on chartered busses. By 11:30 a.m., both sides were roughly equal in number, with a no-man’s-land between them guarded by the SPVM.
Two dozen counterdemonstrators who managed to bypass the perimeter found themselves in the minority among the reactionaries, and for an hour or more the situation was extremely tense. Several skirmishes took place, including a group of Muslim LGBTQ+ people being subjected to the abuse of reactionary demonstrators, with children whom they had been brought to the scene shouting homophobic slurs at the counterdemonstrators. (In this respect, it’s legitimate to question the instrumentalization of children in such a volatile context.) The reactionary crowd, mostly made up of Muslim parents, also included a few “libarté-kémion”–type characters who were visibly seeking a confrontation, including a certain “Ryan Freedom” who spent his day shouting homophobic slurs. Other established figures also turned out, for example, conspiracy theory leader François Amalega Bitondo and Jean-Léon Laffitte, of the Association des parents catholiques du Québec, best known for its anti-choice crusade.
In retrospect, from the point of view of LGBTQ+ advocacy, the day was a failure. Having paid very little attention to the growth of the reactionary movement within communities we didn’t identify as posing a threat, we seriously underestimated our opponent’s capacity to mobilize. As a result, despite the considerable mobilization of queer and trans groups, particularly within the McGill University community, the other side mobilized even more people, boosted its confidence, and, to use a well-worn phrase, “put itself on the map.”
We had no intention of allowing for a repeat of this fiasco.
Preparing for October 21
— The Collapse of an Anti-Trans Organization
Over the months, the 1MM4C network has hardly been devoid of the internal dissension, the power struggles, and the fragmentation that so often undermine reactionary and far-right movements. By last September, in the run-up to the first national demonstration, an initial fault line had widened between organizer Dana Metcalfe and the movement’s self-proclaimed president, Kamel El-Cheikh, apparently over the issue of including LGB people in the anti-QT+ movement. Following September 20, further tensions emerged between the various leadership and organizing poles, notably after images of children stomping on the Pride flag and insulting LGBTQ+ people circulated on social media, along with a video of a child calling gays “psychopaths . . . disgusting” while standing with Mahmoud Mourra, a leader of the 1MM4C movement in Calgary who has been accused of anti-LGBTQ+ harrasment. Once again, we see a disturbing tendency within this movement to instrumentalize children.
In the week leading up to the October 21 demonstration, a number of new tensions emerged within the organization. In this regard, it’s worth quoting the update published by Montréal Antifasciste on the eve of the demonstration:
- One pole of leadership is located in Ontario, around Kamel El-Cheikh and Bahira Abdulsalam. There has recently been a schism between the two, both of whom display a pronounced tendency toward megalomania (El-Cheikh describes himself as “a visionary,” and Abdulsalam is an aspiring politician who thinks she can coordinate all 1MM4C mobilizations across the country from her phone).
- The Hands Off Our Kids (HOOK) organization is “chaired” by Kamel El-Cheikh, and on October 18, [he] unilaterally announced that he was “canceling” all mobilizations for October 21 due to the situation in the Middle East. In response, the administrators of the 1MM4C Facebook page (Calgary’s leadership hub) announced that they were going ahead with the mobilization and that HOOK “did not represent all parents.”
- Following the schism, Bahira Abdulsalam created her own organization, Leave Kids Alone (LKA); on October 20, following the withdrawal of Kamel El-Cheikh and HOOK from the October 21 demonstrations, the 1MM4C demonstration in Montréal [was] called under the banner of LKA, thus under the teleguided coordination of Bahira Abdulsalam.
- Another pole of leadership is located in Calgary, around Mahmoud Mourra and the YYC Muslims Facebook group, administered by Rouba Ismail. (This group sowed confusion less than a week before the event by circulating an erroneous poster indicating that the Montréal 1MM4C demonstration would take place at François Legault’s office on McGill College. This was later corrected and the poster was removed).
It’s worth mentioning here that the leadership pole formed around Mohamed Mourra and YYC Muslims is clearly the branch of the movement most susceptible to conspiracy fantasies and delusions, homophobia and transphobia, and sometimes even antisemitism, as evidenced by numerous posts and comments on the YYC Muslims and 1Million March for Children Facebook pages. Association with the far right, conspiracy theory circles, or even openly conservative circles is not at all typical of Muslim communities in Canada, which may partly explain some of the divisions observed within the national and local organization.
In addition to the public grumbling within the national organization, it turned out that the Montréal leadership pole, formed around the group Ensemble pour protéger nos enfants (EPPNE), was not coordinating with the national leadership of 1MM4C, possibly for the reasons outlined above. Indeed, in the week immediately preceding the October 21 demonstration, EPPNE’s leadership sought to distance itself from the 1MM4C network by publishing a “statement” on its webpage claiming that the group had no hostility toward the queer and trans communities. However, the sincerity of this sentiment is questionable, since the initial statement was later modified to remove the names of the groups they were dissociating themselves from (HOOK and 1MM4C), not to mention that the group’s webpage administrators also post explicitly homophobic content and transphobic videos.
As a result, we feel some nuance is necessary. Although it’s very difficult to determine how many of the demonstrators want nothing more than to confine their children’s sex education to the home for cultural or religious reasons that don’t constitute a fundamental hostility to LGBTQ+ inclusion, one can easily find an alarming amount of transphobic, queerphobic, and conspiratorial content on the organizational webpages for these events. This alone is enough to convince us that it is necessary to block them. If the organizers are sincere in their desire to dissociate themselves from homophobic/transphobic movements, they will have to do better than expressing principles that they immediately violate with their own actions
On the subject of EPPNE, to quote from the same MAF publication:
- Ensemble pour protéger nos enfants (EPPNE) operates independently of HOOK, LKA, and the rest of the 1MM4C network.
- In addition to the major demonstration on September 20, EPPNE organized two (smaller) demonstrations in Montréal during the summer of 2023 on the same theme; one in July, at Philips Square, and another in August, near 600 rue Fullum (Ministère de l’Éducation).
- At this stage, it’s clear that EPPNE’s organizing is more cohesive than that of 1MM4C’s Montréal branch.
- EPPNE is headed by Hanan Masuod, an accountant and resident of Nuns’ Island, and the organization was registered with the Québec Enterprise Registry on October 6. The other directors listed are: Mohamed Yous (Laval), Tarik Dikni (Saint-Hubert), and Abdulhakim Alqershi (Montréal). Mohamed Yous was identified as one of the main on-the-ground coordinators on September 20.
- EPPNE has an autonomous WhatsApp group with over a thousand subscribers; it seems that this channel is their main organizing tool. There [were] six admins of this group: including Hanan Masuod, Mohamed Yous, Tarik Dikni, and a person whose number is attached to the school administration of the Nour Al-Eman Koranic school in Côte-Saint-Luc.
- According to the information we [have], mobilization for October 21 didn’t seem to be taking place through imams and mosques, but through word of mouth in the informal networks built up over the summer, notably in community networks. (Laval’s Al-Ansar mosque relayed the call for September 20, but, before the split, it seems to have been more within HOOK’s sphere of influence than EPPNE’s). We deduce from this absence that no mosque wishes to associate itself with this reactionary movement, at least not publicly.
To make matters worse, in the days leading up to the event, Bahira Abdulsalam arbitrarily designated a new Montréal organizer on the WhatsApp group “Montréal 1MM4C” (with almost seven hundred subscribers), a certain Kevin Delli Colli Ouazana, only to remove him just as arbitrarily some forty-eight hours later, less than twenty-four hours before the event! She then added Hanan Masuod to the group, announcing that the two organizing streams were now joining forces and inviting the latter to relay details of the event, which she never did!
(Note: For the purposes of this article, we have chosen not to reveal the personal contact details of the people involved in these organizations. For various reasons mentioned here, we do not consider these people as enemies to be fought by any means necessary, but rather as adversaries to be brought to question their positions and modes of action).
— Strengthening grassroots defense
The same cannot be said for LGBTQ+ advocacy. In the month between September 20 and October 21, the Montréal “Drag Defense” network, partly formed around the P!nk Bloc Montréal and Montréal Antifasciste collectives, was more active than ever. This informal grassroots defense network was formed in the spring of 2023 in response to a series of anti-LGBTQ+ events in the Montréal region and elsewhere in Québec, including the visit of German Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) MP Christine Anderson (February 24), protests against drag queen story hour in Sainte-Catherine (April 2), Mercier-Est (May 16), Jonquière (May 26), and Sainte-Thérèse (August 17), and a demonstration in Québec City (September 9) against an exposition on gender diversity at the Musée de la civilisation de Québec.
In the aftermath of the September 20 demonstration, a series of planning meetings were held with groups and allies in the defense network, with the priority being to build a coalition for future mobilizations. When the date and location of the next transphobic demonstration in Montréal was announced, a public callout was launched, along with a broadly diffused invitation to endorse the callout, which garnered approximately fifty endorsements. At the same time, calls went out to allied groups to organize contingents and/or become part of the organization in some other way and, of course, to actively participate in the October 21 mobilization.
In the weeks leading up to the event, a number of leafleting and postering campaigns were organized independently or in coordination with allied groups in the neighborhoods immediately affected (Centre-Sud and the Village), as well as elsewhere in the city. The promotion of the counterdemonstration gained considerable visibility on social media, thanks to the many endorsements that came in, including those of significant union and community organizations.
Chronology of the Day
The foresight and determination of the comrades who arrived early enough (before 8:00 a.m.) to occupy the strategic site in front of 600 rue Fullum before our opponents arrived (at around 8:15 a.m.) is to be commended. This deployment prompted the SPVM to immediately establish a buffer zone between the two groups and forced the first arrivals among our opponents, including Hanan Masuod and Mohamed Yous, to regroup—in the pouring rain—in the parking lot between the building and the bike path south of rue Notre-Dame.
Our opponents remained very few in number (between five and ten people) for at least an hour, reaching a peak of about a hundred around midday, while our supporters steadily grew in numbers from 9:00 a.m. to midday, reaching well over one thousand participants, despite the appalling weather conditions.
By 8:15 a.m., welcome tents were set up on site to inform participants of the day’s program as they arrived, to distribute food and beverages, and to allow people to shelter from the rain for a few moments if necessary. A powerful sound system was set up to play upbeat music and communicate important messages to participants throughout the rally. Various allied groups were also set up around the perimeter to contribute to the smooth running of to the event and to a pleasant and safe environment for the participants.
For several hours, participants in the counterdemonstration took turns along the police cordon to confront the reactionaries, stifle their rhetoric, and show them that resistance to the transphobic movement is lively, diverse, and determined.
A blockade was set up at 9:30 a.m. at the corner of rue Fullum and rue Sainte-Catherine to prevent reactionaries from passing through on their way to the rally. Around a hundred people took turns at this strategic position for several hours, until it was time to disperse.
Another contingent formed at 11:00 a.m., with the aim of bypassing the police perimeter and directly confronting the reactionary rally. At around 11:15 a.m., this flying squad of around a hundred people set off. After a brief altercation with a man wearing a “Kill All Pedophiles” t-shirt, the group made its way to the intersection of avenue De Lorimier and rue René-Lévesque, where a line of riot police was deployed by the SPVM to hinder its progress toward our opponents. This faceoff had the effect of blocking traffic in all four directions for forty-five minutes, thus: 1) preventing new arrivals from the reactionary camp from joining their rally via this route from Papineau Metro; 2) preventing the dispersal of our opponents via the western flank toward the Village. The flying squad then hovered on avenue De Lorimier between rue René-Lévesque and rue Sainte-Catherine, eventually swelling to a few hundred people.
Although the police managed to protect the main EPPNE group from a direct assault, word got out to the transphobes that they were gradually being surrounded by several separate groups of counterdemonstrators, and that their route to downtown was blocked. After it became clear, at around 12:30 p.m., that our opponents were dispersing eastward toward the Frontenac Metro station (at the insistence of the SPVM), the flying squad set off in pursuit through the streets of Centre-Sud, in a sort of “victory lap,” while the rest of the popular defense rally (still several hundred strong at this point) remained on site to celebrate our opponents’ defeat in joyful good spirits. The flying squad dispersed around 1:30 p.m. at Frontenac Metro station, and the rue Fullum camp was lifted shortly thereafter.
The objective of preventing our opponents from gathering in front of 600 rue Fullum was essentially achieved, as the police deployment forced them to gather at a distance; on the other hand—as per usual—it was also police protection that prevented defenders from directly confronting our opponents and pushing them even further back.
The goal of preventing our opponents from gathering in large numbers was also partially achieved, by forcing them to make long detours to reach their gathering or to turn back when they came face to face with lively resistance. We have to admit, however, that other factors, including our opponents’ internal disorganization, the weather conditions, and the trauma of the geopolitical crisis in the Middle East, likely played a significant role in the failure of the reactionary mobilization.
The objective of preventing our opponents from marching toward the Village and forcing them to disperse eastward was entirely successful.
On social media, as well as on the WhatsApp channel “Montréal 1MM4C,” many participants confessed their perplexity, annoyance, and discouragement at this obvious humiliation. Some, including Mohamed Yous and Pascal Zurlu Antonin, even bluntly admitted that the popular defense was far better mobilized and organized than opponents of inclusive sex education. Another WhatsApp group subscriber complained that the counterdemonstrators “make up only 0.3% of the population, but very smart and evil (sic).”
A curious alliance indeed…
Interestingly, it turns out that the organizers of Ensemble pour protéger nos enfants had told several conspiracy theory influencers, including Alexis Cossette-Trudel and François Amalega, that the participation of “conspiracy theorists” was not welcome. That didn’t stop a significant number of figures from these circles from showing up, including Amalega’s close accomplice Pascal Zurlu Antonin and Carl Giroux, a vlogger and a regular at anti-LGBTQ+ events, as well as Rebel News disinformers Alexa Lavoie and Guillaume Roy, who never miss a beat.
Several Muslim participants in the WhatsApp channel “Montréal 1MM4C” rightly pointed out that unlike September 20 numerous people at this demonstration were white Quebeckers. We regret to inform them that many of these “de souche” are notorious figures from the Islamophobic circles that Montréal Antifasciste documented in the 2017–2019 period, including La Meute and la Vague bleue, and are fanatical supporters of Bill 21 and the “secular state.”
Of particular note is Michel “Malik” Éthier, whose shameless homophobia is matched only by the hatred of Muslims he unabashedly displayed a few years ago. It appears that Éthier subscribes to all the patented conspiracy theories and angry little obsessions of the populist far right, as fashion dictates; after his xenophobic/Islamophobic period with La Meute and Storm Alliance, he surfed the “plandemic” and anti-vaccine wave, joining the infamous Farfadaas, after which he voiced his support for Putin and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine (throwing his support behind the denazification pretext, even though he himself has happily marched alongside neo-Nazis more than once!), only to now become involved in the current violent homophobic and transphobic backlash.
We also noted the presence of Michel “Mickey Mike” Meunier, a regular in Islamophobic circles. In the past, he blatantly wished Muslims more massacres like the one on January 29, 2017. Meunier has kept a low profile in recent years but has now clearly heard the call of the transphobic cause.
Also at the reactionary demonstration and speaking to the media was transphobic feminist Annie-Ève Collin, a notorious member of the collective Pour les droits des femmes du Québec (PDF-Québec), an organization that fanatically supports Bill 21, a discriminatory law that codifies the exclusion of women wearing the hijab from any teaching positions in Québec’s public schools and other jobs in the public service. One should read this article by Collin to know what she really thinks about the hijab… Do Hanan Masuod and her acolytes really wish to make common cause with such a person? It would appear so, as the administrator of the EPPNE webpage has chosen to adopt A.-E. Collin’s placard as her profile photo!
Given that their invitation to demonstrate attracted a fair number of Islamophobic whackjobs, perhaps it would be a good idea for the organizers to do a little clean-up of their support scene and maybe even re-evaluate the usefulness and relevance of their modes of action.
The LGBTQ+ grassroots defense network suffered a setback on September 20. We collectively underestimated our opponent and failed to take seriously enough the alarm signals raised by some of our comrades. This strategic error can be partly explained by the fact that in the preceding months we had prevailed in a series of confrontations with the transphobic nutbars without too much effort and, therefore, took it for granted that the September 20 demonstration would follow suit. Instead, we were confronted with a new opponent, one who relies on different networks and has mobilization capabilities of a different order.
Faced with this unprecedented situation, we redoubled our efforts, pooled our resources, and organized in an exemplary fashion, notably by reaching out to the many allied organizations that publicly supported our counterdemonstration on October 21. We need to build on this fruitful work, not only for this specific struggle, but in general, which necessarily implies a more active mobilization around the parallel struggles of our allies. In short, we need to take advantage of this momentum to build a more generalized movement.
The specific nature of our opponent in this case raises complex questions about how to resist transphobia and queerphobia while acting in a coherent and reasoned way against Islamophobia, particularly if it were to arise in our own circles. The very nature of one marginalized and oppressed community acting in a way that constitutes an attack on another marginalized and oppressed community raises the bar for us and represents a test of the sophistication and maturity of our movement.
How can we build the bridges and solidarity we need? How can we dismantle prejudice and counter toxic disinformation within different communities? How can we defuse reactionary reflexes on both sides? These are questions we must seriously address.
 The election of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives in the U.S., Mike Johnson, is a recent example of this phenomenon.