It’s 7 PM as I’m sitting in the Banting Building, Room 131, being jolted by screeching microphone feedback as four men stand behind me, looking on. The event is “Prosecuting Sexual Assault: Should you hear it all?”, and the event organizer, Ed Sullivan, sternly addresses the crowd by noting that U of T’s policies for disruption are in effect for the event. Ever since my first year on campus, when I saw these posters on boards in Sid Smith, outside buildings, and in residence, I’ve been driven to know more about what these events are and what it means for university-recognized Men’s Rights groups to hold such events on campus. So, on November 23rd, I decided to find out.
The event was put on by the ULife recognized group, “Men’s Issues Awareness at the University of Toronto”, otherwise known as UTMIA. A U of T-specific offshoot of the Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE), UTMIA has held numerous events on campus since its 2012 inception, all of them advertised with the same bold, minimalist posters.
The event itself was set up very formally—tickets were sold both online and at the door, representatives from CAFE were set up outside to hand out pamphlets and fliers, and a microphone for discussion during the debate was set up at the front. In contrast to this panel-style atmosphere, during the entire event, at least four men were stood close behind me, while the GoFundMe for CAFE’s Men’s Shelter was projected onto the wall. As an aside, Justin Trottier – the founder of CAFÉ – stated that if they hit their GoFundMe goal of $50,00, their sponsor would match that donation. When I enquired about who that sponsor was, I did not receive a response, but in the page description, it notes that they “[…] have government agencies providing resources for this initiative and […] are now considering ongoing financial support, but it is critical that we show that this project has strong public backing.” These sources go unnamed, and I am unsure if they refer to the same sponsors as Trottier mentioned at the event. I reached out to him for information on both the government source and the source who will match this $50,000 donation, and his response is quoted here:
Thank you for attending the event and for your question about the campaign. The $50,000 is being matched by an anonymous individual donor. The donor is a member of a group of philanthropists who donated the initial $100,000 to kickstart the fundraising campaign.
The government has not committed to any financial contributions at this time. However they have provided us other resources, including access to internal operational documents and support in drafting a project plan and operating guide for running our family shelter. In addition, the government official responsible for the Violence Against Women shelters in Toronto connected us with the Executive Directors of a number of GTA-based women’s shelters. These individuals provided additional support as we put together our plans and introduced us to key individuals within the policing and victim-service community. These connections are critical if our facility is to be successful in providing meaningful support to men and their children.
Our intention is to raise sufficient private capital (at least $250K) that we can return to government with a much stronger hand to request they match these contributions. Other agencies before us have gone straight to government and argued they should build shelters for abused men. These agencies were all turned down. We believe the critical difference here is that with leverage from private sources (individuals and foundations), the government will understand this project has broad-based support and that this will provide them with incentive to get on board as well as with a political shield against potential critics of their decision to do so.
Our project does not require government support, but government support will allow us to offer more services to more families.
I hope you will help us reach our full potential in future proposals to government by contributing to the campaign.
I want to point out that the idea of a Men’s Shelter and of protecting male abuse victims is not a bad one. Rather, I wanted to take a look into the ties that this group and event has to others that are relevant here. To begin, the group UTMIA is directly connected to CAFE, a Men’s Rights organization that specifically advocates for male domestic abuse victims and male victims of false sexual allegations. They have had numerous controversial issues, including being recognized as a charity even after sending death threats to a local business after a screening of “The Red Pill” fell through, and Trottier claiming that they needed an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys, as “[w]e’ve had many, many inquiries into murdered and missing girls and women”. Furthermore, CAFE’s “Disposable Man” advertisement directly features University of Toronto locations, with specific thanks given to Hart House. CAFE’s nationwide connections directly link to known MRA groups and MGTOW groups, which advocate opposition to and direct harm against women.
The most notable panelist was Diana Davison, a self-described civil rights activist who goes by ‘Feminism KEK’ on her Youtube channel, which has (at the time of writing) 67,460 subscribers. The founder of The Lighthouse Project, which is a “resource and support centre for the falsely accused”, Davison’s Patreon has 220 patrons, at $1,927 per month, though she is most well-known through her aforementioned Youtube channel, where she has posted videos openly doxxing active members of the Vancouver nightlife scene and why “Betsy DeVos is on the right side of history”. During the event itself, Davison advocated strongly against the media and female sexual assault victims, saying that “[the victims’ texts from the Ghomeshi case] were real evidence of a lie”. She repeatedly brought up the Ghomeshi trial, which was at the centre of this event alongside Bill C-51, as well as the question of time as it pertains to sexual assault cases. She maintained that due to the long period that many women take to prosecute in such cases, they may be mistaken about their sexual assaults, and that “maybe they forgot they had a great time”. In terms of more recent events surrounding the #MeToo campaign, she held that “[a]lmost everything is being called a rape right now”, even going on to say that the #MeToo campaign has led to numerous false allegations, a stance she pushes further on her Twitter.
At one point, another of the other panelists, Joseph Neuberger, stated that “[…] if Bill C-51 was in place 5 or 6 years ago, some of [his] clients would be in a different place right now”—that is to say: prison. Earlier in the debate, he mentioned the supposed prevalence of women “moving to fabricate” sexual assault allegations, a point that received a large round of applause and cheers from the audience, after which he noted that men are also “learning [these] tricks too”.
Considering every argument framing these specific Men’s Rights issues poses them as the fault of women indicates what is at stake in this debate. By posing all arguments as an issue of men against women—ignoring queer and trans victims as well—the hate put forward by UTMIA and CAFE is further perpetuated. Not only the fact that is this group ULife approved, but that the university allows such “debates” on campus is incredibly harmful, and disseminates the idea that this university is a space for the right wing to prosper.
Editor’s note: This event was a paid event. The cost was $5.82 including online service charge (the ticket was $5 for students, with the service charge being $0.82.) Ticket prices varied from $5 – $60, and all costs were covered independently by the writer, with no funds coming from the Innis Herald budget.