Close to 100,000 British Columbia students were absent from public schools on the day of a nationwide parental rights protest last year.

New freedom of information documents reveal that 96,872 students – or 16% overall, were absent Sept. 20, 2023, the day of the 1 Million March 4 Children.

The data reveal that the 1 Million March movement was most concentrated in the cities of Surrey and Abbotsford, which are approximately 40 minutes and 1 hour outside of Vancouver, respectively. 

In Surrey, 18,464 of the district’s 80,208 students were absent during the walkouts, amounting to a 23% absentee rate.

Meanwhile, a whopping 37% of Abbotsford’s K-12 public school population was absent, or 7,598 of 20,551 total.

The Canada-wide marches were initially organized by Muslim parents who were growing increasingly disillusioned with school teachings on gender and sexuality.

In Surrey and Abbotsford, it is largely the Punjabi community taking charge of the parental rights movement.

Parental rights advocates are concerned about pornographic materials in school libraries and teachings that encourage minors to change their biological sex. They are also worried about the fact that biological males claiming to be “trans women” can enter female washrooms. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the protests in a Sept. 20 statement.

“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued,” Trudeau wrote.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended a counter-protest to Ottawa’s 1 Million March, demonstrating with a large Pride Progress flag and chanting “No hate, no fear, trans people are welcome here.”

According to the latest data for the 2023-24 school year, 604,728 total students are enrolled in BC public schools. 

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told True North that they do not keep records readily available of the average K-12 absentee rate in BC.

The Surrey and Abbotsford school districts did not provide True North with their average absentee rates.


  • Lindsay Shepherd

    Lindsay holds an M.A. in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory from Wilfrid Laurier University. She has been published in The Post Millennial, Maclean’s, National Post, Ottawa Citizen, and Quillette.