On Tuesday, March 19, the University of Toronto Students’ Union hosted a town hall on sexism “to discuss the effects of sexism, misogyny and oppression” and “to talk about history, current issues and strategies of support, awareness and resistance,” according to event posters. The event focused exclusively on the presence of men’s issues groups on campus and strategies to counter their growth and activity at U of T.

The event was structured as a roundtable discussion beginning with brief introductions from each attendee. This was followed by a presentation on the timeline of the men’s issues controversies since the protest against controversial author (and men’s rights activist) Warren Farrell in November.

The presenter began by asking the attendees, “Does anyone here identify as an MRA [men’s rights activist]?” Although no one outed themselves, many community members who have been involved in these issues over the past months were aware of the presence of multiple individuals that they recognized as MRA’s from previous protests and public clashes.

As the discussions became more honest and focused, detailing plans of action to counter the movement of men’s issues groups at U of T, the discussion was quickly halted. A concern for “infiltration” was voiced by several of those present, and the men’s rights activists were once again asked to out themselves and leave promptly. In a tense moment, the meeting was put on hold for a 10 minute intermission.

During the break, those who had been recognized as MRA’s were asked to leave; this allowed for a focused discussion on strategy to take place in the second half. The meeting resumed with several independent small group discussions to lay the groundwork for various projects.

Several strategies emphasized a need to bring awareness and information about these issues and events outside the university. Many speakers acknowledged the scale of the men’s rights movement and warned others not to underestimate the amount of support that exists.

There was a general sentiment among those present that any attempts to involve the administration would be futile. Thus far, the administration’s actions have been minimal; amounting only to a short statement from Provost Cheryl Misak in December defending the men’s groups on the grounds of freedom of speech, while condemning online threats made to members of the university community.

The town hall came just over a week after the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union sent a letter to the Vice-Provost Students Jill Matus. In it they called on the administration for a “removal of recognition” of Men’s Issues Awareness U of T -- which they inaccurately called the “Men’s Rights Group at the University of Toronto” -- following an event held March 7.

The SCSU spoke out against the event in the letter, “Anyone who had opposing opinions was treated aggressively. There was no commitment to engaging in dialogue and the environment was hostile, hateful, and created an unsafe space for many attendees.”

Those who oppose men’s issues groups point to the practice of targeting, profiling, and surveillance that have been associated with MRA presence on campus. Although AVfM has previously denounced acts of violence and denied involvement in threats to U of T students, allegations to the contrary have persistently come from the opposition. Similarly, although Canadian Association for Equality has publicly distanced itself from AVfM and disagreed with their approaches, the opposition has suggested that the groups share a degree of overlap in their membership, pointing to the new Ontario news branch of AVfM.

Those present at Tuesday’s town hall were asked to refrain from recording the proceedings to discourage further online targeting. As such, no names or quotes from the town hall have been included in this article out of consideration for those who participated.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Concern with ‘infiltration’ creates tension at meeting
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