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North Vancouver overpass group continues protest despite provincial notice to leave

Officials have denounced a sign as hateful and anti-trans. A group member denies their message is one of hate
A demonstrator group displays signs for highway drivers below in North Vancouver Thursday, May 4. The group had paraded messages of anti-vaccination and government conspiracy for months without incident, but when the "Gender Ideology = Child Sex Grooming" sign started being displayed in April, it drew instant outrage. | Nick Laba / North Shore News

It’s a warm and sunny Thursday in early May, and a group of regular demonstrators on a North Vancouver overpass are out in even stronger numbers than the week before, when the provincial government told them to leave.

On the pedestrian walk of the Mountain Highway overpass, a protester shouts galvanizing chants into a megaphone. His slogans mix in the air with the honking horns of passing drivers, who either give encouraging hand gestures or a vulgar one.

Walking through the group, the mood is buzzing. Demonstrators waving the Canadian flag offer welcoming smiles, a man with a “THINK, it’s still legal!” T-shirt drinks a spiked iced tea and a woman offers pepperoni from a Tupperware container to whoever wants some.

Most people in the group are proudly displaying signs: one offers disparaging words for Canada’s prime minister, another asks drivers to “honk for truth” and a particularly large banner with “Gender Ideology = Child Sex Grooming” in cartoonish lettering has been denounced as hateful by the mayor of the City of North Vancouver and B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The group had paraded messages of anti-vaccination and government conspiracy for months without incident, but when the offending sign started being displayed in April, it drew instant outrage. After its image was shared widely on social media, local officials issued statements to condemn the sign while stating that the overpass is out of their jurisdiction.

The Ministry of Transportation also said the group’s messaging is hateful, and staff attached notices to the structure on April 27 telling the demonstrators to immediately cease their occupation, stating that the group was violating the Transportation Act for reasons related to safety. The group has not heeded the ministry’s statements.

The ministry said it had staff on site Thursday (May 4), and is continuing to monitor the situation.

“The hanging of banners from any highway overpass is not allowed under the Transportation Act,” a spokesperson said by email. “Enforcement is the responsibility of police.”

North Vancouver RCMP said the messaging is hateful, but doesn’t meet the threshold for hate speech under the Criminal Code. Const. Mansoor Sahak said his detachment is exploring what enforcement under the Transportation Act could look like, but that no police action is planned at this time.

Protesters say they aren't hateful

City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan said the gender ideology sign is hate speech.

“Any comments, made verbally or in writing, that accuse people of being child abusers based off their sexual orientation and/or gender identity is a form of hate speech,” she said in a statement, adding that abusive, false, derogatory and prejudiced comments about members of the community must be called out, as silence “only allows hate to grow louder.”

Robert Webb, a demonstrator and local Lynn Valley resident, said the messaging isn’t hateful.

“We’re not being hateful. Come and look at our signs,” he said. “There is nothing hateful against trans people. There’s nothing against gay people, against white people, against Black people.”

He said that sexual orientation and gender identity should not be taught in schools.

“We don’t mind trans people – they’re adults,” Webb said. “What I have an issue with is indoctrinating our children before they’re old enough to really make up their mind. They can’t have a childhood.”

As of 2017, all B.C. school districts and independent schools are required to include specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies. While there is no specific curriculum, SOGI 123 is an optional resource that educators can use to address these topics. LGBTQ-inclusive policies in schools have been shown to lead to better health outcomes for both sexual minority and heterosexual students, including reduced rates of suicide.

Webb said that he started protesting on the overpass around 10 months ago, just after his 23-year-old son had a myocarditis event from a second COVID-19 shot.

“I would invite Mayor Buchanan or anybody who thinks that we’re hateful to come down and talk to any one of us,” he said.

Notices from the Ministry of Transportation stating that "Anyone participating in these gatherings must cease their occupation and must remove all personal property" were still affixed to the overpass Thursday as the group continued its weekly activities.