Two high school students from Red Deer were given a standing ovation at the Alberta legislature on Monday to recognize the stance they took against a group of anti-immigration protesters.
Grade 11 students Ursella Khan and Thomas Gower stood up last week to a group of about 40 adult protesters who gathered outside Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, after a false rumour involving Syrian refugee students began circulating on the internet.
Both students appeared surprised Monday by the accolades they received.
"I'm just a kid with a sign," said Gower. "To get all of this praise and this news coverage is like, 'What did I do to deserve this?' "
The protesters assembled outside the Red Deer school after word spread about a fight involving some Syrian refugee students. Social media posts suggested those students were spared a suspension, while Canadian-born students were punished more harshly.
The principal of Lindsay Thurber has said all students involved in the fight were punished equally.
'They're just feeding off misinformation'
The protesters included a few parents from the school and also members of groups such as the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam. They said the intent of the protest was to raise awareness about the need to protect "Canadian culture" in schools.
"I think they're just feeding off misinformation for their own agenda," Gower said. "They see something involving race and religion and they take advantage of it for their own uses."
The crowd gathered outside the school heckled Khan, who is Muslim, and questioned her religion.
"I was scared," she said at the legislature on Monday. "But I was like, 'Hey, this is my religion and you don't even know me and you're telling me to go back to my country. Like, that's not OK.
"Talking to the protesters, you just realize you can't reason with people like this. They're so full of hatred and they can't let it go, and I think they need to."
The protest garnered widespread news coverage across the province. But the day at the school ended with a soccer match between different groups.
Khan said life has since returned to normal.
"Ever since the incident, everyone is fine, it's cool, they all get along," she said, adding the "outside community" made the fight into a bigger issue than it was.