Canadian Anti-Hate Network
When a British Columbia-based anti-trans ideologue travelled half-way across the country to protest outside an elementary school in the east end of Toronto, and then a school in Ottawa, parents were worried. Claiming to be there to combat the teaching of “gender ideology,” parents say Chris Elston is inciting hate in their community, and are reaching out to their local MPs to do something about it.
“We are fundamentally dealing with a safety issue,” Kat Lanteigne, a parent with a child attending one of the targeted schools, 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.”
Elston typically records his protests both through his cellphone and a body-worn camera. Having in the past been both accused of assault and on other occasions saying he was a victim, the cameras are deployed to show his 35,000 person following the alleged perpetrators and serve as a record of the dialogue he chooses to engage in with willing participants.
Elson chose the school after “leaked” footage of instruction about gender identity received some mainstream media attention.
During Elston’s appearance in Toronto, some neighbours took it upon themselves to put up flags showing support for the LGBTQ2S+ community. According to a parent, Elston responded by walking the streets, filming the properties.
“Drawing that kind of fervour to an elementary school is absolutely inappropriate, which is why we have asked our MPP to table a motion to put a safe zone around schools, to move protests 150 meters away from a school,” Lanteigne said. “[That] does not include the right for teachers to protest or for a protest the students would have. It just means that we know that we don't want to draw that kind of conflict that close to young children and to students.
“And they keep yelling at you [to] just have a conversation. That's vexatious, that's harassment. And so their intent was to come in and create that kind of instability in our community, specifically directed very specifically directed at trans people."
When reached for comment, the Toronto Police Service indicated their “Hate Crime Unit will be reviewing the occurrence.”
Strong Community Response in the Capital
Elston appeared outside two more schools on Tuesday in Ottawa. There he was met with a much larger on-the-ground response.
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.”
After becoming a regular fixture on Vancouver’s Granville Street, Elston, an insurance salesman, has made a name for himself as an anti-trans advocate. Carving a niche for himself as a provocative and often single-man protest, his activism has amassed a prominent Twitter following and international support.
He has a knack for generating headlines, most successfully garnering his initial attention with the purchase of large billboards that promote Harry Potter author and anti-trans mouthpiece JK Rowling.
Anti-Trans Activism Spiking Across Canada
Actions against the transgender community are becoming increasingly organized. Often categorized as trans-exclusionary radical feminists or TERFs -- a term that is both embraced by these activists while simultaneously derided as a slur -- these are groups like CAWSBAR.
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.
Content on the group’s social 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 Elston in the past.
“Over the past two years, we've seen emboldened anti-trans groups mobilizing across Canada, and they've set their sights on the rights - to safety and healthcare - of trans youth,” Fae Johnston, executive director of the Ottawa-based trans advocacy organization Wisdom2Action, told CAHN when asked about the recent Ontario protests. “These events in Ottawa, where a man opted to show up with posters to protest about trans children's healthcare at local schools, of all places, demonstrate that these groups will do anything - including trying to make trans kids feel shamed and targeted - to further their insidious agendas.
“While we're thrilled to see an outpouring of support in response to the hate these people spread, we're keen to raise the bar. Statements aren't enough - we need leadership and action to create safer communities, schools and cities for trans people of all ages - but especially for trans kids - the world is hard enough on them already.”
CAHN has reached out to Chris Elston for comment and will update accordingly.
With files from Sébastien Roback.