Edmonton Journal

Wednesday 21 June 2000

Brochure not discriminatory, Family Centre maintains

But it won't appeal human rights ruling

Duncan Thorne, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal

The Family Centre has rejected a finding by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that one of its brochures discriminated illegally against men.

The publicly funded centre pulled the brochure but says the only reason it won't fight the HRC decision is it can't afford the legal costs.

The HRC, while not discussing the specific case, says it's possible to avoid legal costs on appeal.

An HRC investigator concluded the brochure, Family Violence: Breaking the Silence, discriminated against men and was likely to expose them to hatred or contempt.

The centre broke its own silence Tuesday, after two days of news coverage on the finding, to say it doesn't agree.

Jolie Whetzel, who took over as president Monday at a handover unrelated to the case, said: "Certainly a very strong case could be made against the report from the human rights commission."

Whetzel said the centre, which has a $5-million annual budget, wants to spend its money helping people in need rather than on an appeal. She said it does not concede it was wrong in any way.

The HRC investigation followed a complaint from the Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality.

MERGE objected, saying the brochure, and later versions of it, promoted the idea that only men are abusive in intimate relationships. It cited studies showing the abuse goes both ways.

The Family Centre eventually changed its brochures to remove any gender distinction.

"I don't think it's an issue of whether there was any right or wrong," Whetzel said.

The intent, she said, was simply to provide information about the centre's services.

One pamphlet came under HRC criticism for a statement, quoting "some researchers," that abuse against men accounts for just one per cent of home-violence cases.

Whetzel wouldn't say why the centre used the statistic, but said its figures are credible and there was no intent to imply men aren't abused.

"Currently, we have six to 10 per cent of our victims of violence who are male," she said.

The HRC investigator, Dave Haynes, wrote in his decision the Family Centre did little to refute the claim of discrimination.

Whetzel said the centre's main interest was to help people, not to criticize MERGE's information.

"Our focus sadly is on women, because virtually all of the helping professions, the courts, the police and so on, find that women are abused in large numbers."

HRC director Marie Riddle said the appeal process need not be costly.

"You can get outside help if you want, but the idea is that to come to the human- rights commission you don't need to be represented by legal counsel or anybody. You come and tell your perspective."

If people have concerns about the process, they can ask for someone else to investigate their cases, Riddle said.

"Our complaint-resolution process has many checks and balances in it, and I think the system works."

She said she does not comment on specific cases unless they go as far as panel hearings, which are public.

The brochure complaint did not go beyond the confidential investigation phase.

CITY'S QUESTIONS

- Coun. Allan Bolstad is asking city officials to report on what they do to ensure city-funded agencies, such as the Family Centre, don't issue publications that discriminate against men.

- Bolstad also wants to know if the administration plans any steps concerning the Family Centre in particular.

He made a formal request for information during council's meeting Tuesday.