The “Gender Critical” Group Building A Cross-Country Anti-Trans Coalition

Using disinformation and forming alliances with social conservatives, Canadian TERFs are on a campaign to chip away at the rights the transgender community fought for.

By Sébastien Roback
Canadian Anti-Hate Network




Brandon Boulware, the father of a transgender child, delivered an emotional plea before the Missouri State Assembly to strike down a bill that would restrict the ability of transgender teenagers to participate in school sports. 

Weeks later, a clip of the March 3 testimony went viral on social media, sparking empathetic responses across the world. One Canadian “sex-based rights” advocacy group, however, took to Facebook to condemn Boulware.

“This is a perfect example of a father who was embarrassed that his male child was effeminate.” 

The organization behind the publication, CAWSBAR, is one of Canada’s largest trans-exclusionary “radical feminist” (TERF) groups - an ideology that co-opts the rhetoric of feminism to further marginalize and attack the transgender community.

Among one of the more egregious things they’ve shared on their social media pages is an article by Brendan O'Neill, accusing transgender activists of “weaponizing suicide” as a means of “getting their way.”

A survey held in 2015 by Trans Pulse (Ontario), a community-based research project looking into the health of transgender and non-binary Canadians showed “extremely high prevalences of suicide ideation and attempts within trans populations.”

Founded in 2019, CAWSBAR describes itself as a “cross-Canada, non-partisan coalition of women and male allies working together to protect the rights and protections of women.” 

They believe these rights are threatened by the so-called “gender-identity ideology,” or the scientifically and medically-supported fact that sex and gender are separate concepts.

In a statement released in December 2019 to announce the foundation of the group, CAWSBAR states that its primary objective is to challenge Bill C-16, a law passed in 2017 which protects transgender and gender non-conforming Canadians from harassment and discrimination, by adding gender identity and expression to the list of protected groups under the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Other protected criteria previously included in these laws include ethnicity, religion, sex, and disability.

The law faced fierce opposition, in large part due to the falsehoods shared by certain groups and individuals who feared it would restrict free speech. Opponents of Bill C-16, including CAWSBAR, popularized the conspiracy theory that the law would lead to Canadians being jailed for using the wrong pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. 

It does not.

After years of predominantly online activism, it appears CAWSBAR is attempting to move towards real-life mobilization. Its website features several calls for action, including the distribution of pre-prepared flyers.

In recent weeks, these flyers were found in Ottawa’s downtown core, while an unnamed individual paid for an ad featuring the group’s talking points and logo in the Wellington Times, a local paper distributed in Prince Edward County. 

The paper’s managing editor has since then apologized.

 

With Friends Like These

 

Most recently, CAWSBAR has launched a campaign to oppose Bill C-6, a bill that would make it illegal to force LGBTQ2+ individuals to undergo conversion therapy. 

Other opponents of the proposed bill include Campaign Life Coalition, and Parents As First Educators, an organization formerly led by Tanya Granic Allen, who first came to prominence for their opposition to sexual education in Ontario schools.

Despite billing themselves as feminists, it is not rare for TERF groups like CAWSBAR to collaborate with right-wing groups and individuals, giving precedence to peddling transphobia over fighting for social justice.

On Twitter and Facebook, the group frequently shares articles from outlets like The Post Millennial, which has been described by the CBC as “blurring the line between journalism and conservative pamphleteering.”

Content on their accounts features American conservative politicians like Dan Crenshaw and Rand Paul. After the latter asked Rachel Levine, US President Joe Biden’s pick for Assistant Health Secretary who is transgender, about her position on the “genital mutilation of minors,” CAWSBAR described his questioning as “perfectly sensible.”

One video on the organization’s Facebook features Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. Dating back to 2016, the video shows Rempel making a tearful plea in favour of transgender rights. Written text superimposed above the footage reads “Michelle Rempel preaching radical leftist propaganda,” in capital, bolded letters.

A section of CAWSBAR’s website listing ideological allies of the organization includes people like Barbara Kay (“feminism’s public face became dominated by angry lesbians and psychically damaged man-haters”), Lindsay Shepherd (“Faith Goldy, to my understanding, is not a white supremacist”), and Rebel News contributor Anna Slatz, who was once fired as the editor-in-chief of a student newspaper for publishing an op-ed written by a neo-Nazi.

Amy Eileen Hamm, a founding member of CAWSBAR and the host of the “Gender Critical Hour” podcast, has also collaborated with Chris Elston, a Vancouver-area insurance agent infamous for his public advocacy against transgender rights. 

Hamm, who is also a writer for The Post Millennial, was a guest speaker at a transphobic rally last weekend, alongside Derek Sloan, Maxime Bernier and Laura-Lynn Thompson.


Sloan (left) and Bernier (right) at the Vancouver anti-trans rally on April 10. Source: Twitter.

The rally was held to support a father who has fought his child’s desire to transition. CAWSBAR has alleged that the father was imprisoned for violating the rules laid out by Bill C-16 - an easily verifiable falsehood.

In fact, he was kept in jail pending the outcome of his trial for criminal contempt of court, after being accused of violating a gag order and publicizing his child's personal details.

In September 2020, Hamm and Elston paid for a sign stating support for author J.K Rowling, who has become an icon for trans-exclusionary activists throughout the world after expressing transphobic views on several occasions.

A tweet promoting the billboard published by Hamm’s podcast describes Eltson as her “pal,” and describes their actions as “terfy.”


In October, Elston crashed an event organized by then-BC Green Party candidate Nicola Spurling, who is transgender. He heckled her while wearing a sandwich sign reading “Gender ideology does not belong in schools.” 

He repeated the stunt the following day at another event organized by Spurling’s campaign, while not wearing a mask.

Days later, he was arrested for “causing a disturbance” during a protest in support of Mi’kmaw fishers, once again wearing the same sandwich sign.

In March 2021, Elston was denounced for harassing and pursuing a woman in the streets of London while questioning her about “puberty blockers,” prompting her to call the police. A video published by Elston on his Twitter account shows him encroaching on her personal space as she asks him to wear a mask.

CAWSBAR described Elston as a “rockstar” in 2020 and thanked him for “stepping up.” As of February 2021, the organization was still sharing content featuring him on social media, and at the time this article was published, they still followed him on Twitter.

 

Legitimizing Bullying As “Advocacy”

 

CAWSBAR has defended itself from allegations of transphobia by stating that they are not “anti-anything or anyone.” However, the organization’s aggressive and petty social media presence, as well as that of its founders, seems to contradict this assertion.

After actor Elliot Page came out as transgender, CAWSBAR shared on their Facebook account an article written by Meghan Murphy, highlighting a section that questions the “moral implications of telling young lesbians (...) that their discomfort with gender role, sexualization and puberty can be resolves through irreversible medical processes.”

In several instances, CAWSBAR has described transgender men as “women who don’t want to be seen as women.” The group also made fun of Sam Smith’s gender identity after they were excluded from gendered categories in the 2021 Brit Awards.

After Julie Berman, a Toronto transgender rights activists, was murdered in 2019, CAWSBAR ridiculed a statement by Mayor John Tory denouncing anti-trans violence. They described it as a “Gender Self-ID Fail” in a Twitter thread, because her alleged killer might have been a “trans ally.”

CAWSBAR also played a role in spreading the “super straight” transphobic trend that started on TikTok, in which users claimed a “new sexuality” in order to “drive a wedge within LGBTQ circles.” After a crowdfunding campaign benefiting a trans-exclusionary shelter organized by “super straight” activists was taken down, the organization criticized the “enraged gender activists” who condemned the movement.

While CAWSBAR’s social media accounts routinely antagonize and attack trans activists, worse vitriol can be found on the public pages of some of its founding members.

Responding to a publication mocking the appearance of several Canadian transgender women, Amy Eileen Hamm suggested more names to be added to the thread, along with their pictures.

In another publication, Hamm describes non-binary individuals over the age of 30 as “embarrassing,” comparing them to parents who adopt goth and emo aesthetics to relate to their children.

Another founding member has also shared posts mocking the appearance of transgender individuals, alongside conspiratorial posts stating that the LGBT movement is “big pharma wearing a dress and pearls so you think it’s a movement.”

CAWSBAR and Amy Eileen Hamm did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication.

 

Follow Sébastien Roback on Twitter at @sebroback.

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