The Canadian Association for Equality issues support to the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society and allied campus groups, in response to attempts to organize against “men’s issues” groups on campus through any means necessary, including the breaking of the law and University policies.

Full Report Follows
Read: Media Advisory & Statement: Groups Promise “Militant” Response to Thursday’s Building Dialogue on Sexism Event at U of T

The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) has been active in supporting campus outreach for the past year or so, and has had both positive and negative reactions to our efforts. We have tried to stay above the petty attacks and name-calling that some of our opponents have engaged in, but the activities of some students have put us in a situation where we are forced to respond to them.

Over the past year, we at CAFE have been proud to put our energy toward supporting the emerging “men’s issues awareness” societies that have begun to appear on university campuses. We saw an opportunity to broaden the discussion around gender, particularly around underrepresented issues such as the declining academic performance and rising suicide rates of young men. Universities have traditionally had a strong commitment to freedom of speech, so they’re an ideal place for debating new and sometimes challenging concepts. Part of the university experience is to put forward new ideas and see if they hold up to scrutiny.

Generally we have been well received. Even students who don’t agree with us have been open to talk and exchange ideas. Sparked in part by our success, dedicated groups are forming at Ryerson, York, and Waterloo as well as new CAFE branches in Ottawa and Vancouver. When we have had to deal with university administrations they express a strong commitment to freedom of speech and have done their best to make sure our voices can be heard.

We cannot pay the same compliments to the student governments we have dealt with. So far, without exception, they have shown themselves to be insular, partisan, ideologues that would censor new voices before engaging with them. We do not say this lightly. We draw our conclusions from the activities of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) and the Ryerson Student Union (RSU).

Those groups have consistently misrepresented our organization, misled community members about our activities and goals, and done their best to prevent our voice from being heard in the open forum of the university campus. The story that follows has some facts that will be known to our readers, but also includes new details we have not yet disclosed. It focuses on the University of Toronto, but includes other campuses as well.

Student leaders at the University of Toronto submitted paperwork to the UTSU in order to get the group ratified, but were ignored by the student union. Most groups take a few days to a week to get approved. The University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness (UTMIA) group took four months to be rejected. The main reason they gave was low attendance at our event, where they had helped to organize an illegal barricade.

Meanwhile, the UTMIA decided it was important to put a spotlight on the increasing seriousness of the problems faced by boys and young men. They resolved to invite Dr. Warren Farrell, an authority in that area, a best-selling author and a Financial Times top 100 ‘thought leader’ up to Toronto to give a talk on boys issues. CAFE supported the event. It would stretch our budget to the breaking point, but we hoped that the background of our speaker, who has succeeded in bringing together men and women in productive dialogue, would raise our profile. We didn’t know how prescient that would be.

In the weeks leading up to Dr. Farrell’s talk, we had posters vandalized with ‘misogynist’ or ‘rape apologist’ scrawled across them, or just torn down. When we learned that people planned to protest our event, the UTMIA let the campus police know but otherwise didn’t worry about people outside shouting at us. Campus police insisted on having a presence. UTMIA insisted on it being a small one, since they didn’t want to intimidate any people who wanted to attend.

We were all surprised when we were ready to open the doors to our biggest event to date and found protesters barricading the entrance. A group of people had decided that our voices were too ‘dangerous’ to be heard on campus and in the ‘best interest of the community’ they kept other people from hearing about how we could keep so many young men from killing themselves (one protester actually told a man who had attended to get some closure on the recent suicide of two of his friends that he wouldn’t be allowed to attend the event, and should seek only feminist channels for understanding male suicide).

Campus police called the Toronto Police for help and ended the blockade about an hour after it started. The talk proceeded as planned, but behind schedule. We put video of the talk online as soon as possible after the event to mitigate any claims that the content was misogynistic or otherwise adversely affected women. Steven Brule published a video of what he captured of the protest. Accounts from the protesters differ from what Steven captured, but even five months later they haven’t produced evidence to contradict what he presents. As you will see later, they will claim victimization from these events, but calling their evidence shaky is giving it more credit than it deserves.

To start, the U of T administration distanced themselves from the protests and reaffirmed their support for freedom of speech. We believe that sentiment is genuine. The Office of the Vice-Provost has stayed neutral on the message of the UTMIA group, but they have been very supportive of their freedom to assemble and speak, and for that they deserve commendation.

The student unions have been less honest than the universities they are associated with. For starters, in the weeks leading up to the November event the CFS passed an un-debated motion which proactively prohibited groups focused on men’s issues from existing as any campus in Canada. That, along with the explicit support of the UTSU for the illegal protest at the same event has led us to the conclusion that the student government of many universities are hostile to even the existence of men’s issues groups on campus.

We saw further evidence of this in March of this year when the RSU made a change in their policies that excluded any discussion about gender that did not “centre women’s voices” and dismissed the concept of misandry. This was a week before a new Ryerson  group that had “men’s issues” within its mandate was up for their approval. It was clearly targeted at them. Ironically, they used this policy to reject a men’s issues group run by two female students, thus violating the policy they had just passed.

The barriers that student unions put up have not been limited to bureaucratic meddling. In November they were involved in organizing the illegal protest of the Warren Farrell event. More recently in March they organized a so-called “Town Hall on Sexism”. Rather than discuss actual instances of sexism, the entire event was set-up as a condemnation of CAFE. Their first speaker, a former UTSU executive named Danielle Sandhu, repeatedly lied about the November protest, referring to Dr. Farrell only as “the rape apologist” and claiming that CAFE members and the police assaulted protesters. She also conflated our talk about boys issues as being against women’s rights, promoting rape culture, and promoting incest. Finally, she claimed not to have spoken at the event, despite video evidence to the contrary.

It was this most recent meeting that prompted our response. The most worrying part of it for us was that several people at the townhall wanted to “track them down, find out where they live, where they work” along with discussing further plans to disrupt our events and vandalize our posters all in violation of University of Toronto policy.

What is most frustrating about these experiences is that our detractors primary complaint about us is that we create “unsafe spaces on campus”. This is a constant refrain, but it is nothing more than an excuse to justify their illiberal behavior. When one group barricades doors, screams epithets at the public, and pulls fire alarms during talks while the other hosts public events with open question periods, which is creating the unsafe space?

When one group welcomes everyone into their events, and the other makes McCarthy-esque accusations against those they don’t recognize immediately as allies, banishing them from their public events after outing them as “Men’s Rights Activists” bent on “infiltration,” which is creating the unsafe space?

When attendees at a town hall talk about taking a “militant” approach and making the campus “inhospitable” to our activities and nobody speaks against it, who is creating an unsafe space?

The attitudes we have seen from the student unions in the past few months have drawn attention to the fact that although they say the right buzz words about inclusiveness and freedom of expression those words ring hollow. Anyone who does not agree with them is to be suppressed, vilified and excluded. This is not limited to our group. The UTSU faced a revolt amongst their own members at their November Annual General Meeting. The RSU preemptively passed motions with the intent of rejecting a campus group affiliated with us without even meeting with its members first. The CFS did the same thing in November. At the recent “Townhall on Sexism” they photographed all attendees while insisting nobody record what went on. During that same meeting a large man claiming to represent the UTSU forced several people to leave, claiming they had been identified as MRAs. He refused to give his name, but has been identified as Guled Arale of the Scarborough University of Toronto Student Union. They are creating unsafe spaces in the name of fighting them.

The actions of the student unions and their supporters have only served to strengthen our resolve that the conversations around men and men’s issues need to happen. If a talk about the challenges boys face can inspire this amount of vitriol and coordinated interference then it is a clear sign that there is a serious problem with gender equality on university campuses. Battling with the student unions has consumed more of our energy than we would like, but it has served to illustrate exactly the kind of institutional discrimination that someone can face if they do not toe the accepted line on gender discourse. In that sense, demonstrating the biased attitudes of those in positions of power has been very productive.

CAFE intends to continue these conversations on university campuses and in the broader community. Men make up one half of our society, and voices on their issues – from both men and women – cannot continue to be dismissed, derided and excluded. The challenges they face in attitudes around fatherhood, their role in society and their health will not be resolved by pretending they do not exist, or with empty platitudes that “patriarchy hurts men too”. We must have real productive conversations and the disruptive actions of groups like the UTSU and their allies only serve to bring more attention to our issues.

Amber Taylor
Canadian Association for Equality