The anti-SOGI talk in Oak Bay was asked to end early Thursday evening due to protests inside and outside the Windsor Pavilion, according to police.
Hundreds of people gathered in Windsor Park Thursday evening to protest against the talk titled: “The erosion of freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children.” The talk was hosted by Jenn Smith. Smith identifies as a transgender man and has been vocal in his criticism of sexual-orientation and gender-identity (SOGI) 123 anti-bullying program.
Before the talk, many people in Oak Bay expressed concern that a space had been rented to Smith, with Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch saying they had seen people on social media and through emails were calling the talk hate speech.
Oak Bay council sought legal help about the possibility of blocking the event but was advised not to do so.
“The District of Oak Bay has received a significant number of communications from citizens regarding an event booking for a discussion on transgender politics to be held at one of the District’s facilities. While the District is fully aware that this discussion may be controversial, the District has no legal basis to deny the permit as doing so would impinge on “freedom of expression”. Importantly by approving the permit for the booking, the District is not engaging in, nor condoning, any position on the subject matter,” the district wrote in a statement before the event.
Smith said he does not promote discrimination and his talk falls under free speech.
Oak Bay police said they developed an operational plan with the District of Oak Bay to “address any potential public safety concerns” based on information received before the event.
The upper room of the municipal pavilion was packed by 6:30 p.m., 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, with many in the room not attending to listen to Smith’s speech. Protesters in front of the hall drowned out part of Smith’s speech.
“As the evening unfolded it became clear that due to the significant number of people present and the manner they were addressing each other it would not be possible to ensure that continued public safety be maintained,” Oak Bay Police Chief Const. Andy Brinton said in a statement.
The talk was planned to run until after 9 p.m. but police asked for the event to end at 8 p.m. and everyone in attendance to leave.
“All parties complied and vacated without incident,” Brinton said.
With files from Clare Hennig, CBC and Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist