Organizers of Far-Right Rally Targeting Ottawa Schools Attended Secret Meeting at Toronto’s Elite Albany Club
Organizers of rally that forced Ottawa school children to “shelter-in-place” delivered a “Chatham House Rule” talk to conservative insiders
Two main organizers of an anti-2SLGBTQ+ rally targeting three Ottawa schools earlier this month delivered presentations in April at a secret meeting held at a private club in downtown Toronto that is used by Canada’s top political and business elites.
Civitas Canada is a secretive society of high-brow social conservatives that holds an annual conference behind closed doors each spring.
The organization’s president is Candice Malcolm, a right-wing media personality who runs the website True North. Malcolm describes Civitas’ conferences as a safe space for exploring “heterodox ideas.”
Civitas conducts its meetings strictly under “Chatham House Rule,” meaning attendees are forbidden from repeating anything discussed behind closed doors – or even disclosing who was there.
“Civitas adheres to Chatham House Rule,” attendees at the 2023 conference were told. “The identities of the participants are private and all discussions are not to be recorded, reported, attributed, or disseminated in any fashion.”
This year’s conference was held at the Albany Club, which bills itself as the “the premier private club for leaders in Canada’s business and Conservative political spheres.”
“We are home to more Senators, MPs and MPPs than any other club in Canada,” the club’s website states. “As an Albany Club member, you will be part of a community of like-minded individuals who share a range of Conservative values.”
The Albany Club confirmed the event took place, clarifying to PressProgress that “Civitas rented the space from the Club as a private booking.”
An April 20 draft of the conference’s program, which is publicly accessible on the group’s website, lists the names of various right-wing personalities, including Toronto Mayoral candidate Anthony Furey, Macdonald Laurier Institute founder Brian Lee Crowley and National Post columnist Rex Murphy.
Two other names listed on the Civitas program are Chris Elston and Josh Alexander – the main organizers of the June 9 rally targeting Ottawa schools.
Elston, who calls himself “Billboard Chris,” is an anti-trans activist known for standing outside schools with signs about children and puberty. Elston has been described by school board officials as a man who “travels around the world targeting schools and disrupting student learning.”
Alexander is the leader of a Christian Nationalist youth group called “Save Canada,” which is known for its red MAGA-style hats.
The rally ultimately led to thousands of parents at two high schools and an elementary school receiving alerts that their children were being forced to “shelter-in-place” due to chaos in the residential streets outside their schools.
According to a letter obtained by PressProgress, Ottawa’s public school board had sent letters to Elston and Alexander in advance of the rally urging them to “find an alternate location” that “does not create a risk to the safety of children.”
The Civitas program indicates Elston and Alexander were joined by Shelley Crowley, spouse of Brian Lee Crowley, to participate in a panel titled “Stop transing the kids.”
Elston and Alexander ignored multiple requests for comment from PressProgress prior to publication of this story, however, the pair later confirmed they spoke at the conference, but disclosed no further details about their “Chatham House Rule” talk.
Crowley, who delivered a speech on the “abolition of women” during a panel on “gender, biology and the woke revolution” at the 2022 Civitas conference, did not respond to requests for comment.
While “Chatham House Rule” normally forbids photos of Civitas’ meetings, Alexander posted photos on his social media accounts on the same day as his scheduled panel, showing himself with Billboard Chris inside the Albany Club.
“Join us on June 9th in Ottawa!” Alexander wrote on Facebook.
Alexander has had numerous run-ins with the law in recent months, including arrests at schools in Renfrew, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta. Alexander was also arrested at a protest targeting a drag storytime event at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
The “Save Canada” leader receives legal support from a right-wing evangelical group called Liberty Coalition Canada. The group actively fundraises using Alexander’s name and his lawyer has joined him in media appearances, including on former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson’s cancelled television show.
A recent CBC News investigation revealed Liberty Coalition Canada is currently seeking $1.3 million to recruit hundreds of fundamentalist Christians to run for office at all levels of government with the goal of “calibrating the laws to align with Biblical principles.”
In a statement to PressProgress, Liberty Coalition Canada Director of Operations Andrew DeBartolo clarified the organization did not sponsor the Civitas conference and sent no additional staff to the Albany Club to assist Alexander.
Other Civitas panelists listed on the program confirmed they attended the conference and said they had been invited by Civitas over a month earlier.
“I was contacted by Candice Malcolm to do the opening night debate on ‘(Be It Resolved That) Red Toryism is Irrelevant in the 21st Century’,” pundit and former Civitas board member Tasha Kheiriddin told PressProgress. “It was early March.”
Kheiriddin said she did not see Elston and Alexander’s panel as she left immediately after her breakfast panel concluded.
University of Toronto Professor Lucan Way, who delivered a presentation on authoritarianism, also confirmed Civitas reached out to him too.
Elston and Alexander are not the only characters associated with the rally targeting Ottawa schools who attended the closed-door conference.
Anti-trans activist and Ottawa rally attendee Chanel Pfahl appeared on a panel titled “Education: Examining the current state of affairs.” Pfahl previoulsly ran an unsuccessful campaign for Ottawa school trustee backed by the groups “Vote Against Woke” and “Blueprint for Canada,”
True North Editor-in-Chief and Civitas President Candice Malcolm did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the event.
Update: This story has been updated to note statements made after publication by both Chris Elston and Josh Alexander confirming their participation in the Civitas conference panel at the Albany Club, as well as to include a statement supplied after publication by Liberty Coalition Canada.
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