Quebec government funding group that promotes anti-trans views

Pour les droits des femmes du Québec (PDF Québec)'s Twitter account targeted prominent trans activists who were shocked to discover the group is funded by the government.

Activists say PDF Québec shares misinformation harmful to trans people

a trans pride flag being waved
Trans activists were shocked when they discovered a women's rights group spreading anti-trans misinformation is being funded by the Quebec government. (Nicky Ebbage/iStock)

WARNING: This story contains transphobic language considered disturbing to some

Fae Johnstone is no stranger to seeing hateful anti-trans messages online, but she was shocked to discover the Quebec government is funding a group that targeted her on Twitter.

The Ottawa-based activist, who appeared in a Hershey's ad for International Women's Day, was described as a "violent man" in a series of now-deleted tweets by Pour les droits des femmes du Québec (PDF Québec)'s account.

Other tweets took banter between Johnstone and her spouse out of context and repeatedly referred to her as a man.

"It hurts. I was subjected over the last week and a bit to thousands upon thousands of hateful tweets," said Johnstone.

"I have had encouragements to suicide in my own inbox. I've been called a freak, a deviant, a pedophile and a groomer. Then to see PDF Québec ... portray me as dangerous or violent or a threat to anybody, it's heinous, it's insidious and it should be categorically denounced."

CBC reviewed PDF Québec's Twitter and confirmed there were a series of personal attacks on trans activists. PDF Québec also shares resources encouraging trans people to detransition and refers to gender surgeries as "mutilations."

a strawberry-blonde woman in a blue sweater looking at the camera
Fae Johnstone, who participated in Hershey's International Women's Day campaign, was repeatedly called a man by PDF Québec's Twitter account. (Joseph Tunney/Radio-Canada)

The Quebec Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and the Family confirmed the provincial government gave $143,000 to PDF Québec for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The funding comes from the financial support program for government orientation in community action and volunteer action for the promotion of rights.

According to a spokesperson from the ministry, organizations must meet strict criteria to obtain this funding.

The criteria include: being a non-profit organization or co-operative created for social needs, being community-based, encouraging democratic life, having consulted the community it represents, pursuing a mission for social change, demonstrating civic practices, having an independent board of directors and carrying out popular education.

PDF Québec meets the criteria for independent community action and collective defence of rights, said Labour Ministry spokesperson Catherine Poulin.

The ministry did not respond to specific requests from CBC regarding the PDF Québec tweets that targeted trans activists.

A spokesperson for Quebec's minister responsible for the fight against homophobia and transphobia said "Quebec is an open and welcoming society where homophobia and transphobia have no place" and that financing PDF Québec "is not a sign of support for all of their positions."

PDF Québec lobby efforts

PDF Québec is one of the few women's groups in the province that supported Bill 21, which prevents civil servants and teachers, among others, from wearing religious symbols.

It also presented a brief to the federal government in 2015 demanding that trans people who haven't undergone gender surgery not be able to change their gender identification on government IDs.

In 2017, it presented a brief to modify Bill C-16 — which aims to protect gender-diverse people from discrimination — to exclude some trans people, saying granting them protection would erode women's rights.

The organization denies promoting anti-trans views on their platforms.

"PDF Québec does not attack people in their lives, or in their choice of sexual orientation or gender identity. On the contrary, we want everyone to live with dignity and without discrimination," they said in a statement.

a screenshot of tweets by PDF Quebec calling Fae Johnstone a violent man in French.
The organization referred to trans activist Fae Johnstone as a "violent man" on its Twitter page, among other tweets. (PdfQuebec/Twitter)

"Two transsexual people [SIC] were even among the founding members when PDF Québec was created. Our mandate as an organization is to defend the rights and interests of women with respect to their dignity and safety and thus contribute to the debates of ideas that take place in a democratic society like Quebec."

But for the trans activists who have been personally targeted by PDF Québec's Twitter account, the statement seems hollow.

"I think it's horrendous. Our feminist siblings and sisters, feminist organizations across Canada are in support of trans rights. It's not a controversy," said Johnstone.

"To see an organization that calls itself feminist that is amplifying misinformation ... it's such a disappointment and it should really bring their funding from the Quebec government into question."

She says government funding gives organizations legitimacy and more resources to promote their agendas. Being personally targeted at a time where attacks on the LGBT community are increasing makes Johnstone feel unsafe, she said.

Celeste Trianon with McGill University in the distance.
Trans activist Celeste Trianon said PDF Québec is promoting information that is 'part of worldwide backlash against trans people.' (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Johnstone pointed to American legislatures forcing trans people to detransition, blocking access to gender-affirming health care (including hormones and surgery) and banning drag performances.

Montreal drag story hours in libraries have also been subject to protests and controversy.

"What they do here is they cast trans people as a threat or as if we're appropriating feminism. [...] When they try to wedge us off, it's an effort to dehumanize us, to separate us from other women and enable violence and vile rhetoric to be directed towards us," said Johnstone.

"Now is the time for every government, particularly the government of Quebec, to be supporting trans communities because otherwise we are furthering agendas that will harm all of our community."

Montreal trans activist Celeste Trianon, who runs a legal aid clinic helping trans women, was also the subject of attacks from PDF Québec.

Tweets from PDF Quebec
PDF Québec targeted Montreal trans activist Celeste Trianon after a protest shutting down a talk on sex and gender at McGill University in January, using he pronouns and equating gender euphoria to sexual activity. (PdfQuebec/Twitter)

She says PDF Québec is echoing anti-trans talking points that are popular in the U.S. and U.K. which further encourage anti-trans bills to be put forward by policy makers.

"There needs to be extra protection for trans people as a group and make sure people who parrot hate speech are held accountable for their actions," said Trianon.

"These tweets perpetuate the false stereotype that trans women are predators and that trans women are not women."

She says this kind of online discourse has material consequences, leading her to worry about anti-trans legislation making its way to Canada.

"Even when there's no problem, people are going to create a problem out of it. And people will be attacked because people chose to create a problem out of it," she said.


Erika Morris

CBC News journalist

Erika Morris is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Jonathan Montpetit