Canadian Association for Equality's Facebook photo
An anti-feminist group called the Canadian Association for Equality has gained charitable status, and the Canada Revenue Agency doesn't seem fazed about legitimizing its misogynist connections.
CAFE, widely criticized for its links to a toxic U.S. anti-woman group, suffered an embarrassing setback when it tried to organize an "Equality Day" concert last week at Artscape Gibraltar Point. When bombarded by online messages condemning the group's ties to the "men's rights" movement, Artscape pulled the plug Thursday, May 29. The E-Day fiasco was a victory for local feminists, but CAFE's supporters were still celebrating the CRA's granting it official status as an educational charity in March.
Charitable status gives the organization a significant financial advantage: donors are eligible for tax deductions, and the organization is exempt from taxes on certain expenses. But more importantly, as the group boasted in a May 19 web post, it "serves as a major legitimization of our men's issues agenda."
Those are ominous words for anyone paying close attention to CAFE's activities.
The group's reading list offers further insight into its "educational" role, with titles like The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, and Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame To Systemic Discrimination Against Men.
Not only is CAFE engaged in a fight against feminism, but in a recent post about last month's Isla Vista killings, one of its directors appears to refute the concept of gender-based violence altogether. Citing the fact that men murder other men more often than they murder women, board member Adam McPhee writes, "If anyone should fear men, it is men. It is not women we need to teach men to be gentle towards, it is men themselves."
Such statements are practically harmless in comparison to the bile on the U.S. site A Voice For Men (AVFM). The group's founder, Paul Elam, has written such articles as When Is It Okay To Punch Your Wife? In 2011, he set up a website designed to broadcast the personal information, including names and addresses, of women who he imagined had committed crimes against masculinity.
In a bizarre interview with NOW last week (a full account of which can be found on our site), CAFE outreach director Denise Fong said her group does not endorse Elam's organization. But CAFE's site currently promotes an AVFM conference. And in February it thanked AVFM for its help with a fundraising drive "despite already having committed efforts to previous appeals.
"We thank them for their ongoing support to our on campus efforts," a CAFE administrator wrote.
Natalie Lochwin, who has reported on CAFE for Rabble.ca, says the group's attempts to downplay its links to AVFM are deliberate.
"They've become more moderate as they've been trying to achieve their goal of becoming a charitable organization," she says. "But they do have ties, absolutely."
CAFE also has ties to Karen Straughan, a self-described female men's rights advocate whom the org brought to speak at Ryerson University in February. Straughan believes most feminists are mentally ill. She also has suggested that domestic violence is consensual, often sexually gratifying for women and would cause less harm if men weren't so skittish about hitting their partners in the first place.
"Our ‘never EVER hit a woman' mentality has those men waiting until they completely lose control of their emotions before giving their women what they're demanding," she wrote on Reddit a year ago.
Critics and feminists are wondering if CAFE's charitable status will help the movement take hold.
Steph Guthrie, a local feminist advocate and community organizer, warns that the CRA has given CAFE a "dangerous" boost.
"I'm very concerned that the Canadian government would recognize them as a charity... when the ‘education' they're advancing is founded in what appears to be a campaign of misinformation," she says.
At first glance, CAFE's official mandate is almost comically unobjectionable. Its stated goal is "achieving equality for all Canadians," with a focus on the status of men and boys.
Guthrie says that in reality much of what it does is aimed at repudiating feminism and exposing the supposedly disastrous effect it has had on males. To support its arguments CAFE offers up distorted facts, she says.
For example, the group believes that the family court system is biased against men and notes that less than 5 per cent of fathers are awarded sole custody of their children. What they don't say, according to Guthrie, is that fewer than 10 per cent of divorced fathers ever seek sole custody.
"The problem is really that they're propagating misinformation," she says. "If you're an educational organization, the resources you're putting out there should have some integrity."
The CRA is legally prohibited from commenting on specific cases, but according to an agency spokesperson "to be considered charitable, an educational activity must be reasonably objective and based on a well-reasoned position. This means a position that is based on factual information that is methodically, objectively, fully, and fairly analyzed."
Ryerson's Students' Union unsuccessfully opposed the Straughan/CAFE event, fearing the "precedent this sets for hateful groups to take up spaces on our campus."
Administrations on other campuses might want to brace themselves. CAFE has made a "New Year's resolution" to stage at least eight major events at universities and colleges across the country in 2014. Armed with charitable status, the group might find it that much easier to escape scrutiny.