Homecoming. Fall Fair. Live bands, bounce castles, llamas, and an excuse for student day drinking. That is what September 23 was supposed to be about. A week before, however, rumblings began on social media that there was to be a freedom rally in Bill Johnstone Memorial Park on September 23. The only information seemed to be on a website called World Wide Freedom Rally, and the protest seemed to be against government lockdowns and vaccine mandates. In response, the organizers of the Fall Fair changed the planned parade route and family activities to avoid this vague protest that held the possibility of becoming violent.
The rally was confusing. While some protestors followed the website’s anti COVID-19 lockdown creeds, others took up different causes. With the large number of anti-2SLGBTQ+ protests in the past weeks, one protestor captioned a photo from the rally with “Just keep the Gender Ideology away from our children.” Numerous protestors were affiliated with Hold the Line NB. This movement is, according to their website, against 2SLGBTQ+ education, 15 minute cities, biometrics, digital IDs, banks, and smart appliances, among other things. Many had flags: the New Brunswick flag, the Canadian flag, some reading “Don’t tread on me,” and others reading “Fuck Trudeau.” One protestor — who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat — mentioned that he believed the group has one billion supporters across Canada, which is curious considering that according to Statistics Canada’s 2021 census, the population was just under 37 million. The protestors also showed pride at the fact that they had taken two to three months to rally together and organize this protest. They also did not seem to be local, with many mentioning that they had also been to Saint John and Fredericton, and others mentioning they were from Nova Scotia.
They were not welcomed with open arms. On September 22, Mt. A Manager of Academic Support Shelly Colette posted a graphic to her Instagram, reading “Fall Festival Celebration & Karaoke! No Place for Hate in Sackville.” Colette, alongside other Sackville locals, decked out the park in pride flags. Organizers shared rainbow stickers, cake, and bubbles. Speakers blared with a playlist of pride favourites, such as Kylie Minogue’s “Padam Padam” and Cher’s “Believe.” The counter-protestors — made up of locals, elementary school teachers, Mt. A faculty, staff, and students — were peaceful. They kept their distance. They sang and danced through the park, spreading colour and joy. The Deus Ex Machina coffee truck, parked since that morning’s Farmer’s Market, displayed yet more pride flags and gave out pride buttons, with some reading “Ally.” Despite the peace and celebration, however, there was a message. Sackville will not stand for hate. The freedom rally will not occupy this park. Sackville is proudly queer, and supports its trans youth. The park’s gate stood as a barrier between the protestors — relegated to the sidewalk outside the park — and the swaths of counter-protestors within. A few brave, trans students chose to stand at this barrier, refuting points and attempting to reason with the Freedom Rally. I hope this event showcases to 2SLGBTQ+ students that this town supports and protects them, while fending off those who would make it otherwise.