Protests at Chick-fil-A opening in Toronto over owner's record on LGBTQ issues

Dozens of protesters crowded a downtown Toronto sidewalk Friday to voice their opposition to the opening of the first franchised Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant in Canada over the chain owner's record on LGBTQ issues.

The protesters say the company has funded anti-LGBTQ initiatives while company chairman and CEO Dan Cathy has voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage.

``The fact that Chick-fil-A's opening up on the streets of Toronto's really problematic for us, given that we know the company promotes hate. It's just unacceptable,'' said Justin Khan, director of public interest and legal issues at The 519, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

He said the company gave US$1.8 million in 2017 alone to anti-LGBTQ groups, has given to conversion therapy groups, and is not welcome in Toronto.

``It's more than just about chicken. It's about realizing that the rhetoric of hate is entering our city.''

Wilson Yang, operator of the Chick-fil-A in Toronto, said in an emailed statement that everyone is welcome at the restaurant.

``We respect people's right to share their opinions. Our focus is on offering a welcoming and respectful environment for our guests and team members, and we encourage people to give us a try.''

Eric Ramsay, who was waiting in the long line outside the restaurant, said he didn't think the founder was promoting anything hateful.

``Everyone has the right to do as they want to do, and he's not stopping that in any way,'' he said.

The Atlanta, Ga.-based company has faced opposition in the U.S. as well, including San Antonio city council trying to stop a location from opening in the city and a New Jersey university blocking it from the campus.

Chick-fil-A says it doesn't have a political or social agenda, and disputes the characterization of the 2017 donations. The company says it donated US$1.6 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for sports camps for inner-city youth, a group that is overtly against gay marriage, as well as US$150,000 to the Salvation Army, which has also been accused of discrimination.

The company previously opened a location at the Calgary International Airport that has since closed, but the company says the Toronto location is the first franchised restaurant in Canada. The company says the restaurant will be closed on Sundays, in line with its policy for U.S. restaurants.

Chick-fil-A announced last year that Toronto would be the site of its first international restaurant, with plans to open at least 15 restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area in next five years.