Equality means equality for everyone.
On Friday, January 31, CAFE was called to a meeting with representatives from the Ryerson University Office of the Vice Provost Students and campus security, and informed that if our event with Karen Straughan “Are Men Obsolete? Feminism, Free Speech and the Censorship of Men’s Issues” is to continue we will be required to pay $1600 security fee and change the location of the lecture.
News of this development, which follows a similar requirement for a recent event at the University of Toronto, has led, justifiably, to anger and frustration. It’s felt that universities betray their mission when they charge “free speech” fees to ensure an event, provocative but in no way hateful or discriminatory, may proceed. Such an approach may have an honourable motive in the desire to keep campus safe, but in rewarding those elements who would engage in illegal and unsafe acts in order to stifle expression, the University actually encourages dangerous and lawless behaviour.
After considerable debate and in consultation with parties involved in this event, CAFE has decided to proceed. The event will be a go. We wanted to take a moment to explain our rationale and where it fits into our long term plans:
Thanks to your support CAFE has managed to gain considerable momentum through professional events and inspiring campaigns. That momentum, and the public engagement and media interest to which it has led, requires that we follow through on programs once we have committed to them. We were told to cancel our Warren Farrell event at the University of Toronto in November 2012 after learning of plans to mount a considerable protest. We were told to cancel our Miles Groth event at the same school in September 2013 after learning the University would require a security fee. But we decided to proceed, and it is hard to imagine our organization getting to the place it is now had we given in to the challenges and walked away from those events.
The result: men’s issues awareness at the University of Toronto is now mainstream. The administration no longer requires security fees, having learned the strategic error of their one and only request. Protests are either small or non-existent, opponents having learned they gain no credibility when they employ bullying and harassing behaviour whilst accusing others of such acts of intimidation. And most importantly, we have birthed a new and vibrant Men’s Issues Awareness Society at the University of Toronto to carry on long term programs at the University.
This is our model – and our plan – at Ryerson, and at Universities across Canada. CAFE has announced a 2014 goal: to host events at 8 Universities across Canada. Given such recurring challenges, CAFE announces plans to build a “Campus Outreach Campaign Fund”, a war chest to provide the financial resources to guarantee success. These funds would provide CAFE with a variety of options as we refuse to back down against intimidation from opponents or attempts to censor us through bankruptcy. Such funds would most importantly support legal action that appears to becoming increasingly necessary. CAFE is currently working with a variety of experts to explore our legal options. We invite you to contribute to this Fund and to contact us with your thoughts or your interest in volunteering. We recognize many of you have been extremely generous with previous appeals. CAFE pledges to be transparent with updates on amounts raised and use of funds, and by promising to put much of this Fund toward legal work with long term implications.
The challenge for CAFE is to balance competing aims. We think it’s absolutely imperative that we build safe places on campus for men’s issues. That requires us to follow through on our educational programs, come hell or high water. But we are also very sensitive to the unfairness of paying special fees, especially for security and police who seem unable or unwilling to enforce the law through arrests or detention of those who break it. We share your frustration at feeling that we are being extorted while criminal acts go unpunished. Know that CAFE will be extremely clear with campus security that if we pay these fees, we want a guarantee that the law will be enforced rather than the event impeded. This is our right but it is also what will make the University a safer place.
You have given us your support and trust thus far, and with it CAFE has come very far. As you know we are now busy setting up the first Canadian Centre for Men and Families. We ask that you continue to trust that we have a solid plan to balance our competing goals. It involves finding ways to meet our commitment to host events for the sake of those students who will benefit, while using the opportunity to put on a positive show in order to build a good relationship with University administrations. And when necessary, it also means taking whatever action is required to guarantee our fundamental rights and freedoms under the law.
We hope to see the community pull together at this time. We need help promoting the event to ensure we turn this challenge into an opportunity. Get the word out especially to Ryerson students. Let’s make sure we get a new student group out of this. If you’re frustrated and want to make a change, the best thing you can do is to contact us and volunteer. And above all, stay positive, friendly and hopeful. Come out on Thursday and show those in attendance – supporters and critics alike – that this is a group that encourages debate and welcomes diverse points of view. That is what distinguishes us from those who would shut us down. That is what makes us stronger.
Canadian Association for Equality