OTTAWA — Children who do not see a Pride flag at their schools should know one is flying for them on Parliament Hill, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, as he condemned the sharp rise in laws curtailing the rights of transgender people across the United States.
Trudeau hoisted the flag that celebrates the LGBTQ community at an event where he was joined by MPs from all political parties, marking the eighth time he has done so since being elected to power in 2015.
"We all thought it would get easier after that moment," he said, referring to the first time the flag was raised on the Hill in Ottawa.
"But we've been reminded by a rise in anger, hatred and ignorance and intolerance, that things getting easier is not automatic."
The prime minister echoed other speakers who warned of the discrimination faced by members of the LGBTQ community, both online and in their daily lives.
It has grown worse in recent years as conservative groups, particularly in the U.S., protest drag queen performances and fight to take away gender-affirming care for transgender people, especially minors.
The speakers underscored that Canada is not immune to such sentiments, given such protests are also happening in the country,with Trudeau saying "transphobia, biphobia, homophobia are all on the rise."
Among the issues speakers pointed to were proposed changes by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs' government that seek to change some school rules around LGBTQ students. One such change would mean that students younger than 16 who identify as transgender and non-binary would not be allowed to officially change their names or pronouns without parental consent.
Higgs's Progressive Conservative government has defended the move as fulfilling the wishes of parents, but it has been met with backlash.
NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, a co-chair of the recently-founded parliamentary Pride caucus comprised of federal lawmakers from the LGBTQ community, said Thursday that Canada was witnessing extremism pushed by individuals who are trying to take away others' rights.
"We will not accept going backwards," said Desjarlais, who is two-spirit.
"We are not here to make kids queer. We are here to make sure queer kids are not made into dead kids. That is why the raising of this flag today is not only a symbol of our love for community, it is also a symbol that we will be unrelenting in our discovery of who we are."
During his address, the prime minister saidattempts have been made to stop Pride celebrations and noted that over the past few weeks, Canadians have watched as people try to remove books about gender and sexuality from schools.
That is cruel to children who struggle with questions about their identities or live in homes where such questions are not met with love, said Trudeau.
The Brandon School Division in southern Manitoba recently voted against a call to remove books with LGBTQ content from its libraries.
Trudeau also said students are often the ones fighting for the Pride flag to be hoisted at their schools, and in some places, those efforts have been denied.
Such was the case for the York Catholic District School Board, which voted last week against flying the flag outside its main office.
Addressing students who are without a Pride flag, the prime minister said: "I'm here to say even though the flag may not fly at your school, know that it proudly flies here, in your seat of government."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May both attended the ceremony. Melissa Lantsman, who serves as deputy leader for the Conservatives and is lesbian, also attended.
At a separate news conference on Parliament Hill, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he was up late filibustering the Liberals' budget in the House of Commons the previous night when asked why he didn't attend.
"I believe every Canadian, regardless of who they are, regardless of their race, sexuality, gender, deserves to be safe," he said Thursday, adding that if a Canadian commits violence against another, "they should be thrown in the slammer."
Poilievre characterizes his job as Conservative leader as to promote freedom for all Canadians. Speaking in Winnipeg last week, he wished Canadians "a happy Pride month," saying "our freedom is something in which all of us can take pride."
He did not answer, however, when asked whether he plans to attend an event, with festivities spanning the country until the end of the month.
On Twitter, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge accused Poilievre of being "all talk and no action" for being "nowhere to be seen" during the morning's event.
"A leader’s greatness is measured by their ability to rally everyone around them. His absence today speaks volumes. Now, more than ever, we must fight against the rising hate towards 2SLGBTQI+ people."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press