In late March 2023, a misleading claim spread online about the Canadian government allegedly funding "drag camps" for children and teens. "Camps indoctrinating kids as young as 7 with gender ideology and sexual confusion are now being promoted and subsidized by all government levels," right-wing politician Maxime Bernier posted on his Twitter account.
Attached to the tweet was a purported flier that listed organizations like the Canada Council for the Arts (which describes itself as the country's national arts funder) as supporters of the alleged camps, as well as photographs of young people wearing wigs, heavy makeup and costumes.
This is utterly disgusting.
— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) March 31, 2023
While the claim appeared to stem from real financial connections between some Canadian government agencies and a theater based in Vancouver, British Columbia, it drew a direct line between taxpayer dollars and specific events that was not supported by evidence.
Bernier's tweet was widely shared by right-wing accounts on the platform, including Libs of TikTok. The claim and flier also appeared on other social media platforms, like Reddit and TikTok. Some posts cited "the Canadian government" as the force behind the supposed funding. Others specifically mentioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Meanwhile, right-wing websites like The Post Millennial and The Daily Caller promoted the claim.
The junior drag camp for children ages 7-11 and teen drag camp for young adults ages 12-17 were real events organized by the nonprofit Carousel Theatre for Young People in Vancouver, B.C., set to take place in July 2023. The theater posted about the camps on its social media accounts in early 2023, as well as advertised it on its website. The camps also took place in 2022.
Breaking Down the Viral Tweet
The top pink half of the flier shared by Bernier was an authentic advertisement for the camps by the theater.
However, the purple section of the flier supposedly listing government agencies that "promoted and subsidized" the camps was seemingly taken from an unrelated part of the theater's website, and digitally added to the camp advertisement.
The purple section displayed five government agencies: the city of Vancouver, Canada Council for the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, Granville Island, and government of Canada. Those entities were indeed listed on the theater's website as supporters, and financial records showed they had granted the nonprofit money over the years.
However, there was no indication that the government funding specifically paid for the in-question camps, and none of the theater's materials promoting those events referenced the government agencies at all, much less as "supporters."
Aside from the main claim about the camps' funding, the images of children dressed in drag in Bernier's tweet were misleading, as well. None of them had anything to do with the theater.
Three of the four photographs were old pictures of teenage drag performer Desmond Napoles, also known as "Desmond is Amazing." One could be found in a 2017 video from former Infowars reporter Millie Weaver, another was posted on Napoles' Twitter account in 2018, and the third was from a 2019 event. The fourth was of a child who attended a 2018 RuPaul drag convention.
Here's What Financial Records Show
According to financial records listed on the five government agencies' websites, they all have awarded the Carousel Theatre for Young People various grants over the years — money that was designated toward the nonprofit's overall budget.
In other words, the government agencies awarded the theater money to spend on general operations, a broad category of expenses, and not any specific programming.
It was unknown if, or how, costs associated with the drag camps fit within that umbrella pool of funds. Also unknown was the price tag of the camps. We reached out to the theater with those questions, and we will update this fact check if we receive a response.
The city of Vancouver's website listed the theater as a 2022 grant recipient. A spokesperson said the nonprofit was one of 150 nonprofit art and cultural organizations that received "core operating funding" from the city. She said the funding pool contributed to operations and programming at nonprofits, such as methods to create new jobs for artists and cultural workers.
(In addition to the city of Vancouver and the British Columbia Arts Council, we reached out to the communications offices for the Canada Council for the Arts, Granville Island, and the government of Canada for their response to the viral claim. We will update this report when, or if, we receive responses.)
The Canada Council for the Arts granted the Carousel Theatre for Young People funding between the years of 2017 and 2021, according to a list of grant recipients on the Canada Council for the Arts' website. Documentation outlining that funding's parameters said the money was granted to cover general costs for the organization as a whole, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The database did not list the theater as a funding recipient beyond 2021.
The British Columbia Arts Council granted the Carousel Theatre for Young People funding between fiscal years 2013 and 2022, according to a list of grant recipients on the council's website. The reasons for the grant funding, which we listed below, varied throughout the years.
- 2013-2014: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Special Projects - Capacity and Sustainability, Early Career Development - Internships, Residencies, Mentorships
- 2014-2015: Professional Arts Development - Operating, Special Projects - Capacity and Sustainability, Early Career Development - Internships
- 2015-2016: Professional Arts Development - Operating, Professional Arts Projects - Capacity and Sustainability, Professional Arts Projects - Early Career Development, Professional Arts Projects - Youth Engagement Program
- 2016-2017: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Strategic Initiatives - Youth Engagement
- 2017-2018: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Strategic Initiatives - Early Career Development, Arts-Based Community Development
- 2018-2019: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Supplemental Grant awarded across Operating Assistance programs
- 2019-2020: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Supplemental Grant, Strategic Initiatives - Early Career Development
- 2020-2021: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Arts and Culture Resilience Supplement, Stronger BC Resilience Supplements (November 2020), Stronger BC Resilience Supplements (March 2021)
- 2021-2022: Professional Arts Development Operating Assistance, Arts and Culture Resilience Supplement
The theater was not listed on the council's website as a grant recipient between the months of April and October 2022, the latest period of grant-giving at the time of publication. A spokesperson for the British Columbia Arts Council confirmed that the organization does provide funding to the theater, and that the full list of recipients for the second half of 2022-2023 had not yet been made public.
On the Granville Island's administrative website, the Carousel Theatre for Young People was listed among the government's "Cultural Partners" that received funding in 2019-2020 to grow "creativity, celebration and expression" on the island. At the time of publication, it was unknown if that program remained active, or if the theater maintained its status as a "Cultural Partner."
Through the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, Canadian Heritage and Employment and Social Development Canada programs, the government of Canada awarded grants to the theater in 2014, and during the years of 2018 to the present, according to a list of grant recipients on the government's website. Below is a breakdown of the programs that gave the theater money, by year:
- 2014: Canadian Heritage
- 2018: Employment and Social Development Canada
- 2019: Employment and Social Development Canada, Canada Arts Presentation Fund
- 2020: Canada Arts Presentation Fund
- 2021: Canada Arts Presentation Fund, Employment and Social Development Canada, Canadian Heritage
- 2022: Canada Arts Presentation Fund - CAPF - Budget 2021 Re-engaging, Employmentm and Social Development Canada, Canadian Heritage
None of the five government agencies promoted the drag camps on its own platform, based on our analysis of their social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.