I take great pride coming from a family of strong women, they might not have called themselves feminists, but that’s how I saw them. My maternal grandmother was a real-life Rosie the Riveter who welded aluminum fighters and bombers during WWII. My paternal grandmother was a technical draftsperson who continued working after the war- helping the UK Army design machine guns, military vehicles, and the infamous rubber bullet.
One of my earliest memories was going to the bank with my mom when she went to apply for a mortgage. Years later she explained to me how the manager was incredibly resistant, Canadian banks didn’t give mortgages to women back in the early 70’s. She resisted and fought back hard, they eventually gave in and she became one of the first women in the country to be issued a mortgage in her name alone.
Feminism was borne out of a fight for freedom- the right to vote, the right to own property, and the ability to get a mortgage to buy it with. My grandmother’s feminism – through the airplanes and guns they helped create – saved the world from the horrors of fascist regimes.
I know contemporary feminists who are making an important difference- one whose contributions leave me in awe. I’m not an enemy of feminism, I’m an ally; that said, Canada is ground zero for a new form of the movement- and it’s toxic.
My first encounter with toxic feminism was almost exactly four years ago at Occupy Vancouver. A group of radical feminists organized a general assembly on the subject of anti-oppression. The meeting started off okay, but everything went pear-shaped when one of the people leading it closed-off saying:
“We will be holding our first Anti-Oppression meeting tomorrow- but, this meeting will only be for women and transgender people!”
It was a trap, an intentional provocation to get people angry and cause division. It worked too, a few people in the audience were genuinely upset. The meeting’s facilitators responded to angry people saying “check your privilege”- labeling them as “misogynist” and “transphobic. There was an older woman standing beside me who suffered from Aspergers Syndrome- she was deeply upset, it took me over an hour to help her recover from the facilitator’s social violence.
I learned that evening that toxic feminism isn’t about building people up, it’s about “smashing patriarchy,” creating division, and tearing things down. In this case, it was an opportunity for Occupy Vancouver’s radical feminists to take control- scaring away people who didn’t want to deal with them and marginalizing those who disagreed with them.
Toxic Feminism Is A Weapon:
Long before Chris Hedges was speaking out about the use of violent Black Bloc tactics at Occupy, I was the tactic’s most vociferous opponent at Occupy Vancouver. I stumbled onto the problem about a week before we set up camp when someone posted a video on our Facebook page of a woman named Harsha Walia passionately arguing in defence of vandalism, physical confrontation with the police, and the serious crime of “de-arresting” people from the police.
There was an argument brewing between a group of radical extremists and a young woman who helped make Occupy Vancouver a possibility. At one point, mistakingly assuming she was a man (her first name is uncommon), “he” was accused of being “racist and misogynist” for differing with the opinion of the “woman of colour” in the video. That’s where I jumped in- a moment that would plow through my life like a wrecking ball.
Suddenly I was the racist misogynist, being attacked from all sides. When I disagreed on violence with a trans woman, who came after me, suddenly I was transphobic. A gay man joined the fight and suddenly I was labeled homophobic. A poverty activist accused me of being an enemy of the homeless for not supporting their right to violently “rise up.”
There was a moment of peace after Walia published an article stating that non-violence “is the right tactic for this moment.” But only a few days later she showed up with a group of masked protesters dressed in Black Bloc style who eventually got into a street fight- smashing a cop on the head with a flagpole. Walia was caught-on-film in Occupy Vancouver’s documentary verbally attacking the cops as the masked thugs started to get physical.
With the promise broken, I spoke out once more and was subject to an overwhelming intensity of attacks. I started researching the violent part of Vancouver’s activist movement and discovered that it ran deeper than just a few anarchists. I learned that NDP MP Libby Davies was quietly sitting in the audience during Walia’s video. I learned that future NDP MLA David Eby had foreknowledge of Black Bloc criminality at the 2010 Olympics, and how Black Bloc activists distanced themselves from him after symbolically throwing a pie in his face.
I’d stopped talking about Walia once I learned about Eby and started taking about him. I was warned to stop talking about Eby, “he’s a good guy” I was told. A few days later on December 23, 2011 – two days before Christmas – they published a website that was specially created to destroy my reputation and my opportunity to secure employment. I’d never heard of most of the people who put their name on it, most I’ve never met, many had never stepped foot into Occupy Vancouver.
Since then I’ve had all sorts of nasty things written about me. An anarchist website called the Media Co-Op – funded by a foundation that’s given grants to TIDES Canada, Hollyhock, LeadNow, and David Eby’s BC Civil Liberties Association – has articles calling me nasty names, one stating that I must be stopped “in any way possible.” I was later hospitalized after being assaulted with a flagpole by a group of masked Black Bloc.
The Toronto Police Service reacted as if what had happened to me was unimportant…
My Introduction To The Gregory Alan Elliott Case:
The first time I heard about Gregory Alan Elliott’s encounter with toxic feminism was on December 12, 2012. It was five days after I wrote an article criticising a story by Toronto Star writer Antonia Zerbisias- glorifying an unrepentant organizer of the violence during the 2010 G20 as a jailhouse activist fighting for the rights of fellow inmates at Vanier Prison.
Zerbisias came after me with a link to another website created to damage my reputation. The site mixed a couple articles attacking me me with pictures of neo-nazis- it was created by Alex Hundert, a man sentenced to 16 months in prison for his part in the G20. His girlfriend at the time, Leah Henderson, was unrepentant when she was sentenced to 10 months in prison. Henderson has never apologized for the shame she helped bring to Toronto, but city councilor Shelley Carroll has now hired her on the city payroll as her assistant.
In a highly unprofessional move, Zerbisias’ wrote in her tweet “Hey @grenouf I’m writing a story about cyberstalkers and trolls. Want to be in it? #TotallySerious.” She sent me an email about three weeks later asking me about my incident with Harsha Walia- her email included a link about Elliott’s case and asked me what my opinion was about it.
Taking my friend’s advice, I ignored her email and spent two anxious weeks waiting to see if a reporter from one of the country’s biggest newspapers was going to try and destroy me. I locked myself in my bedroom most of that time, shellshocked. Antonia’s column had the power to cause great damage- understanding her relationships with the violence advocates who’d been attacking me, I was genuinely worried she might try.
Antonia certainly did a great job destroying Gregory Alan Elliott. She kicked off her story talking about “cybercrepers” posting pictures on “parasite porn” websites, exploiting the Amanda Todd tragedy, and quoting some supposedly generic experts. Next she praised Elliott’s alleged victim Stephanie Guthrie for her attack on a young man who created a cheesy (and distasteful, I hate violence) video game simulating punching the face of a prominent feminist named Anita Sarkeesian.
After setting the stage with stories of sexual exploitation, suicide, and death threats, and placing Guthrie on a high pedestal, she moved onto the story of Gregory Alan Elliott – a man who we’d later learn from police testimony had never made any threats, and none of his tweets were of a sexual nature.
Zerbisias’ story closed off with one last expert, Const. Scott Mills of the Toronto Police Service. Mills complained that police are “inundated” with the impact of social media cases, then used the opportunity to sell what sounds like a potentially expensive project, “We need a social media fusion centre that connects social services and law enforcement.”
But despite all of her detail on sex offenders and other horror stories, there are a couple of things Antonia neglected to mention in her article. The first is that she’d had a history with Elliott, he’d previously tweeted in response to her stories calling her a “hack”, and recommending she take a new job as a waitress. Antonia had skin in the game, she’d even publicly congratulated Guthrie “for nailing misogynist troll @greg_a_elliott.”
The other thing her story missed was how one of the two newly alleged victims she wrote about (but neglected to name) had a very close relationship with Const. Scott Mills. Paisley Rae has been worked closely with Mills since at least 2011 when she made a video about a series of assaults in her home neighborhood of Parkdale.
Mills and Rae co-founded #Chillcon, “an evening of “chilling and conversing” about community engagement and social good initiatives in the City of Toronto” that often took place at the Cadillac Lounge- a location we’d hear more about during Elliott’s trial. The events have been ongoing since at least 2011.
Antonia still comes after me from time-to-time. In February, she wrote a story labeling my research into the environmental movement saying I “harangue” protesters. She also made an outright lie saying I “wildly speculated” on Sun News that Lac Magantic was caused by environmentalists- I did nothing of the sort. Curiously, her article was published in The Tyee, a newspaper funded by the same Ruth and Henry Goodman Fund that contributes to the Media Co-Op.
[Dear Goodman Fund: I’m not implying you’re responsible, only that you’re irresponsible enough to fund a publication that prints mistruths, and another that openly promotes violence. I saw joy in Ruth’s face in the picture of her dancing with Libby Davies at her birthday party, she seemed like a loving person- is this really what she would have wanted?]
My last incident with Antonia was on April 6th, Easter. I’d tweeted out a humorous meme of “rogue senate page” Bridgette DePape supporting the Harper campaign the night before. Antoinia retweeted the image with the text “skulking around protesters, @grenouf thinks himself ‘witty’? Ha!” I was subsequently flooded with a few hundred hateful tweets.
People called me a “Harper Troll”, some claimed I was deliberately trying to deceive, I was told I probably have “a painting of Harper above your bed”, and to “eat a bag of dicks”. The attacks were vicious and cruel, had they not been equally so silly I’d have been very upset that day.
But there were three things that kept me laughing through it. First, the only reason I could be called a “Harper Troll” is that I led the most successful protest against Stephen Harper in the history of his term in office. Next is that I spent that afternoon with a feminist watching a musical about Nina Simone– you know, neo-con propaganda. Finally, the irony of Zerbisias initiating the kind of swarm she described Guthrie as experiencing was impossible to miss- hypocrisy exposed.
Some Closing Thoughts…
In Part II of this series, we’ll start off with a story about one of Elliott’s tweets about the Cadillac Lounge- an important part of the case against him, forming the basis of Guthrie’s primary complaint that Elliott made her feel “creepy”. We’ll also explore some of the testimony during Elliott’s trial, the single biggest lie told by Guthrie’s supporters after Christie Blatchford’s story criticizing the case, and the alleged victim’s nasty habit of trying to shut down people’s right to speak freely and assemble.
In Part III we’ll dig deeper into the alleged victim’s connections to power. We’ll learn about Guthrie’s cooperations with city councilors Shelley Carroll and Kristyn Wong-Tam, and how both encouraged toxic feminism at one of Guthrie’s Women In Toronto Politics meetings. We’ll discuss Guthrie’s support for a government-funded NGO whose mantra “toxic masculinity” hovers dangerously close to violating the Canadian Human Rights Act. And we’ll close off with a deeper dive into Guthrie’s relationship with Antonia Zerbisias, and a nasty attack on Rob Ford.
In Part IV we’ll explore Paisley Rae’s incredibly close relationship with the Toronto Police Service. We’ll look at a highly inappropriate incident where Rae live tweeted as prosecuting detective Jeff Banglid did a presentation on Gregory Alan Elliott’s arrest, and how she was curiously dropped from the case in mid-testimony. We’ll also discuss disturbing statement from Newstalk 1010 radio personality John Moore that Mayor John Tory “vetted” Shelley Carroll before appointing her to the Toronto Police Services Board- determining that it’s perfectly fine she’s hired an organizer of G20 violence who’s never apologized to the people of Toronto.
Toxic feminism is not the act of a single individual, it’s the behavior of a mob. This week that mob attacked a coffee shop that dared to show Gregory Alan Elliott’s art- Facebook and Twitter postings led the situation from ugly words to criminal vandalism. It wasn’t bad enough Elliott has lost his job, lost his right to communicate online, and had to endure Antonia Zerbisias’s misleading smears- toxic feminism wants him to be eliminated from society.
Toxic feminism is social violence.
Note: Due to the Crown’s “incompetence“, and the glacial speed of our courts, Elliott’s verdict has been set back until next year. It’s an important case, so I won’t be rushing, but I promise to complete the series before Elliott’s next trial date in January. A full size version of the relationship can be found here.