Protest groups clash over Bill 10 at Alberta legislature grounds

Two similar, yet very different, rallies took place only an hour apart. Things got a little heated.

Bill 10 focuses on students having access to GSAs and is one of the most controversial in recent memory

Rallies on both sides of the Bill 10 debate were held within an hour of each other on the legislature grounds Saturday. (CBC)

Standing across from each other at the Alberta Legislature grounds Marni Panas and Sheldon Johnston faced off.

"What rights are you losing?" asked Panas, a trans activist, her voice tense.

"This is not purely a bathroom issue, this is a much broader issue," responded Johnston, who was bussed in to speak against the very thing Panas was there to support.

Both were there as participants in two similar, yet very different, rallies scheduled only an hour apart.

The crux of both protests was the controversial Bill 10.

The first one took place to support trans rights while the second was organized to give displeased parents a voice against the bill.   

The bill, originally passed by the Progressive Conservative government in March 2015, focuses on students having access to gay-straight alliances. 

The anti-Bill 10 rally saw hundreds of people in Edmonton and about 1,000 in Calgary.

It was organized by an advocacy group called Parents for Choice in Education.

Theresa Ng, the group's representative in Edmonton, said 'Bill 10 fundamentally and profoundly undermines the parents.' (CBC)

Theresa Ng, the group's representative in Edmonton, said people were bussed to Alberta's capital from Grande Prairie, Red Deer and many other towns across the province. 

Ng says the group is against how Bill 10 because it "fundamentally and profoundly undermines the parents choice to provide the kind of education that should be given to their children." 

"What we're asking for today is for amendments for Bill 10 that restores parents to be primary decision makers in their education," said Ng.  

The group has also spoken out against the provincial government's LGBTQ guidelines.

The pro-side, called the Everyone Can Pee rally, was organized to attempt to protect Bill 10, which they say made Alberta a "North American leader in human rights legislation."

"We will stand together to protect transgender youth in Alberta and to support the development of inclusive policies in all Alberta school districts," the group said in a statement.

Marni Panas, one of the organizers of the first rally, stayed with some other holdovers to challenge those coming to the second rally. (CBC)

The rallies were held only an hour apart and saw some from the Everyone Can Pee rally stay to challenge those attending the Parents for Choice in Education one.

Marni Panas, one of the organizers of the first rally, was one of those holdovers.

"My message to these people that really want to deny basic human rights to children is, it's time to catch up or shut up because we've moved past," said Panas.

At times during the protest duelling shouts of "Human rights matter" and "Parents rights matter" could be heard. 

The clash became personal when Johnston and Panas, both speakers at separate rallies, began to argue.

It focused on the issue of trans students being able to use the washroom that matches their gender identity. 

The argument was heated with Johnston at times calling Panas, a transgender woman, sir and Panas saying Johnston was anti-LGBTQ. 

Marni Panas and Sheldon Johnston got into a heated argument over Bill 10. (CBC)

Ng was adamant the issue isn't about bathrooms but for some standing with sign in hand, it was front of mind,

Val Leffers brought her two young children to the rally.

She said she is worried about parents' rights being taken away but she also has concerns with the bathroom issue.

"My entire issue with it, as a parent, is that some people who aren't transgender people using it to abuse," said Leffers. 

"Little girls don't want to have men in their bathrooms," she added. 

Panas and the hundred or so at her rally said they took solace in the fact that, on Tuesday, the federal government will be introducing legislation that would give legal and human rights protection to trans people. 

"Society has moved forward, we can see our government moving forward, Albertans have moved forward," said Panas.

"The fact that we're standing here today talking about where someone should pee, seems silly to me."

With files from Emily Fitzpatrick