Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Chris Elston (right) with Mitch Murphy (left), also known as The Red Pill Rapper. Source: Twitter
When Chris Elston arrived outside a downtown Ottawa school last week, he was greeted not by the handful of supporters that sometimes joins him in his protests, but a wall of community members and activists sending a clear message of “not welcome.”
According to organizers, over 200 people attended a counter-protest against Elston’s ongoing anti-trans tour of Canada -- and soon the US -- protesting what he calls the “gender ideology.”
Dubbing himself “Billboard Chris,” his chosen crusade is against the rights of trans people. His sandwich board is a physical representative of the mis- and dis-information pushed by the trans-exclusionary radical feminist movement.
Elston rose to prominence among TERFs quickly after he teamed up with Canadian Women's Sex-Based Rights (caWsbar) founder Amy Hamm to purchase billboards that showed support for prominent “gender critical” author, J.K. Rowling.
The outrage that quickly followed the billboards saw them taken down in roughly 24-hours. When the media came calling, however, Elston was happy to pick up.
The simple black, white and red imagery scrawled across the large advertising space simply declared “I [heart] JK Rowling.” In interviews, Elston said he borrowed the idea from a UK activist who had put up the same message with smaller advertising posters at Edinburgh Station.
Elston’s East Hastings and Glen Drive billboards were intended to “stoke hate, exclusion and division” according to Vancouver city councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung, at the time and over the night, the billboard was covered in paint. The company that had sold the advertising space sent a crew the next morning to cover up the display.
The first sign’s life may have been short-lived, but in its brief tenure, Billboard Chris was born.
A soft-spoken man who had previously used his Twitter account to condemn Scientology -- Elston claims to have been taken in by the cult for a brief stint in the 1990s before having to flee -- he now posts almost exclusively about the subject of trans-rights and what he sees as the ideological targeting of children by activists.
“I stand on street corners, and I go to wherever there are crowds downtown, and I have conversations with people. I’m really calm,” Elston told The Cut for a synopsis of the J.K. Rowling controversy. “I’ve been making a lot of waves.”
The attention garnished by the first billboard alongside a busy Vancouver highway, as well as the backlash, led to enough support for Elston to see signs appearing across the United States, including 15 signs across the state of Utah, digital screens along the Washington DC metro, as well as in Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles, California; New York City’s Times Square; and more.
Unashamed and unafraid to enter crowds, the father of two is rarely without a recording cell phone and/or body-worn camera meant to capture any conversation, or confrontation, as it takes place.
Read how to show transphobes they aren’t welcome here.
“Our politicians refuse to listen, and our media refuse to report, so I’m having conversations with Canadians, one person at a time,” he writes on his website.
“I’m a father of two girls and I decided to take a stand against gender ideology,'' he adds. “Children should be free to be who they are — not indoctrinated to believe they were born in the wrong body.”
Calling medication prescribed by a doctor as the “first step in a medical pathway that brings physical harm to children,” the past year has seen Elston attempt to spread and justify his transphobia alongside a smattering of other TERF organizations. His website cites a variety of studies, almost all of which have been criticized on the basis of their methodology or conclusions.
Around the same time, Elston attended campaign stops for BC provincial Green Party candidate and trans woman, Nicola Spurling. He would often be blocked by signs held by Spurling’s supporters. Elston was joined by the far-right serial troll and doxer known as “John Southern.” Southern attends protests to film media, police and antifascists, who he then attempts to identify. Messages posted to an online forum frequented by an account claiming to be Southern give details about events he has attended with Elston, as well as his support for the figure.
“Generally he sticks to himself because cameras tend to scare people because they [are] afraid to talk to him less they get ‘Cancelled,’” the account attributed to Southern wrote recently.
“The vast majority of conversations he has are off-camera. I don't have the resources to travel the country with him, but I'll happily assist with hooking him up with contacts in the places he goes.”
Southern admits to hanging around with members of the neo-Nazi Heritage Front in the 90s, and claims he was present for the 1993 brawl at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto between members of the Heritage Front and Anti-Racist Action, but denies he was a member or took part.
After Spurling posted footage taken by Southern, she claims to have received “14 calls, 5 voicemails and a threatening video on his YouTube channel for use of his clips. I have confirmed my use of these clips falls under 'Fair Dealing' in Canada.”
John Southern and Chris Elston did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication.
“About a month later, I had raised concerns about Chris Elston’s wife being a school teacher in Surrey and he really didn’t like that,” Spurling told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network about the incident. “His response was to show up at my home, take a picture of my place, and shared it on Twitter, along with my name, address, email and phone number.”
Spurling eventually recorded a call she made to Elston asking him to stop after the Coquitlam RCMP allegedly told her they can’t take any action until she did so. Spurling says she initially landed on Elston’s radar for her part in advocacy that resulted in the initial BC billboard being taken down.
Days later on October 26, 2020, Elston would be arrested for causing a disturbance at a Vancouver protest in solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers. Elston told Vancouver Is Awesome he attended only because there was a crowd. At the event police grabbed and arrested Elston for causing a disturbance after he was rebuffed by protesters. Video posted by Elston shows him walking through the crowd, calling them violent.
On Monday, almost a year to the day since the arrest, he claimed via Twitter that he was filing wrongful arrest charges.
On The Road
Based predominantly in BC, Elston has made travel an increasing feature over the course of his brief but successful foray as a transphobic figure. His website features photos of him alone or with other activists outside provincial legislatures, universities and even hospitals across the country.
While on one such trip to Montreal, QC, Elston posted video taken on his cell phone of several people shouting at him and swinging a construction pylon. Photos taken at the time show his arm receiving treatment and he says he suffered a broken forearm blocking the strikes -- a fact he backed up with x-rays. Elston, who films constantly, primarily uploads confrontations to social media.
Days earlier, Elston posted a video of him following a young woman through the streets of the city. This time taking issue with a since passed federal ban on dangerous and damaging “conversion therapy” practices, he claims he followed the woman due to her employment at a sexual health clinic.
“If Bill C-6 makes it a criminal offence to try to convert someone’s gender identity, can we charge teachers and counsellors who tell our girls they might be boys?” he wrote above his share of the video. “Personally, I’d love to file private prosecutions against a few gender consultants and endocrinologists.”
The woman, who says she is a gender consultant, repeatedly asks to be left alone, and asks Elston to stand back and wear a mask, all of which Elston appears to ignore. The scene was so unsettling that even other accounts seemingly aligned with Elston commented they were uncomfortable with the interaction.
Canada’s ban on conversion therapy would pass the following June. The September election derailed the Bill, but the government has promised it’s one of their top priorities to reintroduce the legislation.
In April of 2021, Elston reportedly received a recording from the father of a 12-year-old student in Ontario that contained part of a lesson on gender identities. He spread the clip far and wide, claiming the clip "grooms children to reject their parents' views.” His posts to Twitter even received mainstream news coverage from a major US news publication.
In reality, the audio said that "gender exists on a spectrum" and "parents and grandparents may not be as informed about these topics."
The audio was posted to his Billboard Chris Twitter page, broadcasting his view to the over 36,000 followers of his account. Jumping from spring to Fall 2021, Elston appeared outside the elementary school where the audio allegedly originated, dressed in his signature sandwich board. Not content to try and engage with parents and educators, people on the scene also report that he also tried to talk to young children.
“We are fundamentally dealing with a safety issue,” Kat Lanteigne, a parent from the school, told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “This man has put the safety of all of our kids that are attending these schools at risk, because he has given out a siren call to his fellow anti-trans followers. And that is unacceptable without hesitation.”
The Toronto Police Service, when reached for comment, indicated that their hate crime unit is investigating the situation.
Travelling days later to Ottawa, Elston faced a much more direct response to his presence than before. Instead of taking parents and students unaware and demanding conversation, Elston was met by a coordinated counter-protest organized by Rainbow Carleton, a student advocacy group based in the city.
Organizers estimate that over 200 people were in attendance.
Wearing his signature sandwich board, Elston was confronted by a crowd of demonstrators opposed to his message. Surrounding Elston, and using everything from umbrellas to blankets, to large signs of their own, counter-protesters recorded and jeered at the BC insurance salesman.
"We were happy to see such a big turnout to counter the hateful message of transphobic bigot Chris Elston. The Ottawa community was loud and clear - he is not welcome here," Sam Hersh, a board member of the advocacy group Horizon Ottawa, said in a statement.
Footage and pictures from the event also show that at least two Ottawa city councillors -- Jeff Leiper and Catherine McKenney -- in attendance, as well as Member of Provincial Parliament Joel Harden.
“Transphobic organizing at our primary and secondary schools is some of the most insidious anti-trans hate out there,“ said Christian, a lead organizer with Rainbow Carleton. “Their points are based on misinformation and eye-catching hyperbole, and their rhetoric harms the already vulnerable trans youth population.”
“Rainbow Carleton is proud to have been able to organize a counter-protest to show Chris that the community here in Ottawa will not accept him peddling hate to or at our students, and that all of us are committed to protecting trans kids.”
According to Twitter, Elson is planning on travelling to Texas in November, visiting Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, followed by Los Angeles in December.