Equality between the sexes, particularly the equality and participation of women in society is something Canadians value. In fact, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Section 15 Equality Rights expressly prohibits discrimination based on sex. The Charter allows for the legislation of affirmative action laws designed for the “amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Moreover, since 1971 among the departments of the government of Canada, you will find that of the Status of Women Canada. The mandate of Status of Women Canada is to promote “equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.” (Status of Women Canada)
Historically, the division of labour in Canada was based mainly on sex. The norm was that men worked outside the home and lived with the understanding that Canadian citizenship included the duty to take up military service in times when Canada went to war. Women worked in the home and were called upon as a reserve labour force to step in and take on men’s jobs in the fields and factories while the men served in the Canadian military in wartime. This was the reality when Canadian men were away fighting during Canada’s participation in the First and Second World Wars.
In the present, Canadian men and women compete for the same jobs in the Canadian Forces and the broader labour market. In the past, women were excluded from combat roles in the Canadian Forces and enrollment in Canada’s military colleges: Royal Military College and Royal Military College Saint-Jean. Following the mandate of Status of Women Canada, women were admitted to Canada’s military colleges starting in 1980. Sex-based segregation is mostly a thing of the past, but for a very long time, it was a reality. Some occupations were denied to women because they were deemed unsuitable for women. Yes, the status of women is taken very seriously in Canada. With the concern and emphasis on the status of women that is demonstrated in legislation and the devotion of an entire government ministry, the question remains: what about the situation of men in Canada?
Regarding the status of men in Canada, it is widely assumed that for men — white English-speaking men in particular — their place in Canadian society is guaranteed. Consequently, it is primarily maintained that there is no need to worry about the status of men in Canada. This assumption that there is no need to be concerned about the situation of men in Canada is challenged by the emergence of a movement advocating for the well-being of men and boys in Canada.
Of the various issues regarding the status of men in Canada that generate concern, suicide rates figure prominently. In fact, demographically, data generated by Statistics Canada indicate in 2012, show there were 3,926 deaths by suicide in Canada, of which 2,972 were men and 954 were women. The suicide rate in Canada in 2012 was 17.3 deaths per 100,000 men compared to a suicide rate of 5.4 per 100,000 women. As these data demonstrate, men were three times more likely to commit suicide than women. (Dustin K. Macdonald. Canadian Suicide Statistics 2016)
Another concern with the situation of boys and men in Canada pertains to the participation of boys and men in secondary and post-secondary education. Once again, data compiled by Statistics Canada show that “in 2016, 8.5% of men and 5.4% of women aged 25 to 34 had less than a high school diploma, representing about 340,000 young Canadians.” (Sharanjit Uppal. Young Men and Women Without a High School Diploma) In 2016 in college and university enrollment in Canada, 1.15 million women were enrolled as opposed 883,000 men. (Statista)
It is also the case that it is Canadian men who are at higher risk of injury and death in the workplace. Data compiled by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada shows that in 2016 864 men died on the job as opposed to 41 women and, 145,972 men were injured on the job as opposed to 95.479 women. (Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada)
Groups such as the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) are concerned. There are groups affiliated with CAFE on university campuses across Canada currently that includes the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society, the York University Men’s Issues Awareness Society, the University of Guelph Men’s Issues Awareness Society, the McGill University Men’s Issues Awareness Society, the Carleton University Men’s Issues Awareness Society and the Trent University Men’s Issues Awareness Society.
The stated aim of CAFE is listed below:
Our goal is to facilitate an inclusive, rational and civilized public conversation about the status of boys and men in Canada. Topics we think should be discussed include mental & physical health, suicide, family law, education, public policy, workplace safety, media & cultural stereotypes, and misandry. We believe this conversation must be based on facts and evidence-based research and not on ideology, e.g. gender profiling that assumes that only women can be victims and only men can be the perpetrators of abuse and discrimination.
Moreover, CAFE took care to clarify its position on equality between the sexes affirming: “We do not believe that equal rights is a zero sum game, and we reject the notion that identifying and eliminating discrimination against men and boys will somehow increase discrimination against women and girls. By definition, equal rights means equal rights for everyone.” (CAFE) CAFE is well-represented by men and women in its leadership and organizational structure. The list of advisory fellows includes Janice Fiamengo who is an author, editor, and Professor of English at the University of Ottawa, Eleanor Levine who is a Field Educator at Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Jackie Orsetto who is a Course Instructor and Research Coordinator, Department of Sociology, Trent University and notably, Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Are the Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power. The advisory fellows lend their expertise in helping CAFE fulfill its mandate of consciousness-raising through events, campus outreach, research, press engagement, YouTube and blogging.
In setting out to reach its stated goal, CAFE opened the Canadian Centre for Men and Families in Toronto in 2014 and the Canadian Centre for Men and Families Ottawa in 2017. The statement of values for the Canadian Centre for Men and Families states:
We value equality, tolerance, respect, dignity and acceptance.
We value all fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of association and freedom of the press. We believe in the importance of discussing different perspectives and we oppose censorship of controversial or politically incorrect ideas.
We value peaceful and non-violent approaches to settling differences.
We value the human rights of each and every individual. We believe the advancement of human rights is not a zero sum game where some will win only if others lose. We believe every human wins when any individual succeeds in advancing their human rights.
We value people above ideas; we strive to ensure beneficial outcomes for our clients, personnel and our community.
We value education; as an educational charity, we are committed to the highest standards of education and strive to continually improve educational content and experience.
We value public policy that flows from fact-led and evidence-based scientific research rather than political or ideological commitment or special interest agenda.
We value the wellness of people; we strive to improve the wellness of our personnel, our community and the public.
We value excellence; at all times, we undertake to continually improve our business based on feedback, input and participation of our community, personnel and the public.
We value transparency; at all times, we undertake to demonstrate transparency to our personnel, members and the public.
We are an open and diverse community of individuals that embraces individuals regardless of sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, religion, age, marital status or national origin. (Canadian Centre for Men and Families)
Notice CAFE refrains from collectivizing individuals according to superficial characteristics such as race, sex, and ethnicity. Still, a critical point in the Vision, Mission and Values of the Canadian Centre For Men and Families is the emphasis on boy’s and men’s issues as noted:
- The CCMF will focus on the entire breadth of boys’ and men’s issues, including:
■ The “Boys’ Crisis” (education, bullying, suicide) — Creating a new sense of purpose for our sons, while preserving an equally purposeful environment for our daughters
■ Empowering boys and men with conflict resolution and communication skills that reduce violence in our communities and benefit all members of society
■ Educational and other resources to improve the mental and physical health of boys, men, and all those in their life
■ Workplace Issues (e.g. workplace safety and equality)
■ Family Law, Fathers Issues and working toward the best interest of all children
■ Crime and Punishment/Legal Issues focused on creating a fair system for all
■ Media, Social and Cultural Misandry
■ Academic Misandry (e.g. in Gender Studies and Culture Studies programs)
The status of women in Canada, the drive for their full participation in economic, social and democratic is a laudable goal. Certainly, the drive for equality between the sexes in Canada is a good thing; but it is important that the status of boys and men is not overlooked, or so would you think. Unfortunately, there is vehement and hostile opposition to CAFE, the Canadian Centre for Men and Families and CAFE’s effort to establish Men’s Issues Awareness groups on university campuses in Canada. For instance, CAFE had its permit to take part in the parade at World Pride 2014 in Toronto revoked days before the event, despite having taken part in the event without incident in 2013. When asked about this by reporters, Pride executive director Kevin Beaulieu stated: “There has been some concern expressed about the activities and purpose of CAFE and whether they actually match the intent they express.” When asked to elaborate, Beaulieu replied, “I’m really not going to go into that.” (as cited in the Toronto Star) However, in 2015, Toronto Pride barred CAFE from participating in Toronto Pride in perpetuity. The Pride Toronto Dispute Resolution Process with Paul Bent as arbitrator was employed. Bent justified the ban stating in part:
My decision is based on balancing of interests: I considered CAFE’s response that inclusion, diversity and equality are values the organization shares with Pride versus the numerous complaints filed against CAFE’s participation arguing that CAFE, as an organization and through its affiliation with men’s rights groups, contravenes Pride Toronto’s vision to, “create a safe space to engage communities in the celebration of their sexuality.”
I must give the complaints of members of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community precedence when they indicate the participation of CAFE could directly undermine the participation of queer, lesbian and trans women in the Pride Parade. Consequently, I determined that the Pride Parade is not the right venue for CAFE given Pride Toronto’s vision to create a safe space for people of all genders and sexual orientation. (As cited in NOW Magazine)
Regrettably, for opponents of the movement advocating for the well-being of men and boys, equal rights between the sexes is indeed a zero-sum game. In March 2013 three Ryerson University students, Anjana Rao, Argir Argirov and Sarah Santhosh, petitioned to open a men’s issues group on campus — the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS). The stated aim was to “create a progressive and constructive voice and lend representation to any and all Ryerson students concerned with the issues of men and boys.” (The Eyeopener) The reaction from the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) was swift and uncompromising. Neda Hamzavi, Equity Issues Commissioner and RSU Board Member, was determined to block the opening of a men’s issues group at Ryerson University when she pushed through the following amendment to the Women’s Issue clause in the RSU Policy Manual:
4. Groups, Meetings or events [that] promote misogynist views towards women and ideologies that promote gender inequity, challenges women’s right to bodily autonomy, or justifies sexual assault 5. The concept of misandry as it ignores structural inequity that exist between men and women 6. Groups, meetings events or initiatives [that] negate the need to centre women’s voices in the struggle for gender equity. (As cited in Maclean’s)
In defending this amendment Hamzavi stated: “We want to acknowledge that the additions that we added here are regarding the ideas of misandry and reverse-sexism, both of which are oppressive concepts that aim to delegitimize the equity work that women’s movements work to do.” Marwa Hamad, vice-president equity at the RSU, said the policy will preserve space for discussing misogyny and institutionalized gender imbalances. (As cited in Maclean’s) The President of the RSU, Rodney Diverlus, concurred with Hamzavi in asserting: “We know that oppression and the marginalization of men is something that doesn’t exist just like the oppression and marginalization of straight people or white folks in our society.” (The Eyeopener)
In spite of the effort to block the opening of a men’s issues group on campus, plans to open a men’s issues group at Ryerson University during the Fall Semester in 2013 got underway with the support of CAFE. On February 6, 2014, CAFE held a talk on the Ryerson University campus, Are Men Obsolete? Feminism, Free Speech and the Censorship of Mens Issues, delivered by Karen Straughan, a member of Men’s Rights Edmonton and publisher of her YouTube channel as GirlWritesWhat. Initially, Ryerson University demanded that CAFE pay $1600.00 in security fees, but in the end the university absorbed the expenses as it was decided they were a barrier to free expression. The Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society was established in 2015 and on October 19, 2015, an application for club recognition with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) was filed. On October 27, 2015, the Ryserson Student’s Union informed the Ryserson Men’s Awareness Issues Awareness Society their application was rejected. The Ryerson Student’s Union justified their rejection of the application for club status on the grounds that “other groups like the Women and Trans Collective were already addressing many of the issues MIAS sought to focus on. Further, RSU claimed that men have “systemic privilege,” and that a group focused on men’s issues would “harass” women and make them feel “unsafe”.” (Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms)
Not satisfied with this response, the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society appealed the Ryserson Student’s Union’s rejection. In doing so they emphasized their “pre-existing commitments to remain independent of any external control, to reject all forms of violence and hate speech, to take all precautions for safety at any group functions, and to provide a safe place for discussions free of fear for personal safety.” (Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms) In spite of this, on January 26, 2016, the Ryerson Student’s Union Board of Directors denied the appeal. This decision left the Ryserson Men’s Issues Awareness Society no alternative but to take the Ryserson Student’s Union to court. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (a non-profit organization founded in 2010 with a mandate to uphold the constitutional freedoms of Canadians) agreed to represent the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society in court. As Marty Moore, lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms maintained: “Student union executives are not entitled to discriminate against students or groups whose expression they disagree with. Yet, students at Ryerson are forced to take their student union to court in order to have their fundamental rights and freedoms — which the student union itself recognizes — respected on campus.” (Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms)
The case was heard by Justice Paul Perell heard in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on January 24, 2018. Justice Perell handed down his judgement on February 26, 2018, in which he dismissed the case. Justice Perell ruled “turning then to the merits of Mr. Arriola’s and Ms. Godlewski’s case against RSU, there is no merit to it.” Justice Perell added “Mr. Arriola and Ms. Godlewski have no right nor entitlement to official Student Group status, which is a discretionary matter for the RSU to decide in accordance with its published policies and procedures.” Justice Perell found, also, the Ryserson Student’s Union’s appeals process “more than adequate.” (As cited in The Eyeopener) While Justice Perell’s ruling is a disappointment for the Ryserson Men’s Issues Awareness Society, they maintain their presence on the Ryerson University campus despite not having club status.
In the last analysis, advocacy for the rights and well-being of men and boys is not at all unreasonable as the guarantees in Canadian law for equality between the sexes apply to men and boys, just as they do for women and girls. The emergence of the movement advocating for the well-being of men and boys in Canada is a necessary and worthy adjustment to Canadian society; just as is the drive to ensure the equality and full participation of women in Canadian society. The efforts of CAFE, the Canadian Centre for Men and Families and affiliated groups, are, in effect, striving to balance the scales in the status of men and women in Canada. The fact remains even if you disagree with CAFE, the Canadian Centre for Men and Families and affiliated groups; they have just as much right to present their evidence and express their thoughts as you do to challenge and refute them. CAFE and like-minded groups, who advocate for the rights of men and boys, carrying on the effort based on facts and evidence-based research and not on ideology are well worth hearing, and I wish them every success in their endeavours.