A Canadian man who allegedly shouted at a nine-year-old girl and questioned whether she was transgender has been banned from attending elementary school athletics competitions, after an incident that activists say reflects a broader rise in anti-trans hate across the country.

Kari Starr told the Guardian that her nine-year-old daughter was preparing for a shot put competition in the British Columbia city of Kelowna when a man attempted to halt the competition, alleging Starr’s daughter was either a boy or transgender.

Starr said the incident left her daughter, who is not transgender, “hysterically crying” and unable to compete in the shot put final.

Starr’s former partner Heidi described the incident to CTV News: “His wife started yelling that my ex-wife and I – parents of my daughter – and other parents of trans kids were genital mutilators and groomers, and the man himself began demanding to see a certificate proving my daughter was born a girl.”

Josef Tesar and his wife Krista, who attended the event to see their granddaughter compete, were asked to leave by other parents. In a statement to local media, Tesar denied he ever confronted the nine-year-old.

“As I was walking away from the official, a woman said ‘I’m her mother’ and [she was] yelling, and swearing at me and offering if I want to see [the girl] naked, or if I want to see her genitals,” he said. “I said ‘No, the certificate is OK.’ That’s all I said. I never pointed to another girl and said she’s obviously trans.”

The incident happened the day before the girl’s 10th birthday.

“Fortunately, the day after it all happened she had her birthday party with her soccer team and then another party with her mom, so she’s been quite distracted,” said Starr. “But the same time, it’s really hit her hard.”

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The premier of British Columbia, David Eby, condemned the incident, saying “hate is not acceptable or welcome” in the province. “Let’s keep calling out transphobia when we see it. Hate hurts everyone. And let’s stand with this girl and everyone who is targeted just for being themselves,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday, the federal New Democratic party leader, Jagmeet Singh, tweeted: “This is where anti-trans hate will lead us. A 9-year-old was verbally assaulted, humiliated, and left in tears by an adult.”

Starr said school officials responded immediately and showed “strong” support to the family.

The school district says it is taking steps to formally ban the man and woman from school properties and future events.

The superintendent and CEO of schools, Kevin Kaardal, said in a statement: “We expect that adults who are invited to celebrate student success govern their behaviour and conduct themselves with civility and respect.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it was “actively investigating” the event following a wave of complaints from the public but could not provide detailed comment due to the child’s age and provisions of the Privacy Act. “We too share everyone’s grave concerns with discriminatory behaviour,” the police said in a statement.

After a string of protests across North America focusing on drag events, Pride flags and library books, the brazen way in which an adult is alleged to have confronted a child reflects a troubling shift in public attitudes, said Susan Gapka, a Toronto-based community organiser and transgender rights activist.

“This wasn’t about defending children,” she said. “It was about attacking the children under the guise of defending them. And whether or not the child was trans, this was about an appearance, that they are ‘something’. It’s fearmongering. It’s upsetting. And if it’s upsetting to me, imagine how the child feels.”

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Earlier this year, Ohio legislators passed a “genital check” state law that would require students to bring a note from their doctor to verify their sex to participate in school sports. Months later, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit transgender women from competing on women’s sports teams in schools and universities that receive public funding, reflecting the country’s broader culture wars.

Such policies have not yet appeared in Canada, but the province of New Brunswick recently announced teachers would no longer need to use the preferred pronouns or names of transgender or non-binary students under the age of 16.

The change led to caucus revolt within the conservative government, with dissenters suggesting the move was unnecessary. One former cabinet minister told the Globe and Mail the government had “dropped a bomb where none needed to be dropped”. The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said those pushing the policy were “far-right political actors” inflicting “cruelty and isolation” on vulnerable people.

In early June, a candidate for British Columbia’s Conservative party called for a ban on “men participating in women’s and girls’ competitive sports”, adding the issue should be on the “front burner” among voters.

“Sport and recreation should be available to everyone, no matter what your sex or gender is,” said Gapka. “We’ve got to be better around loving each other and holding each other tight. And I just really want to hold on to that message of hope.”

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