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Monday, June 19, 2000

Violence brochures discriminate against men, rights body rules
Victory for gender equality group
Chris Cobb
Southam News; National Post

OTTAWA - The Alberta Human Rights Commission has ruled that family violence brochures published by an Edmonton counselling centre discriminate against men.

The ruling, scheduled to be announced today, is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

"This is a real breakthrough," said Ferrel Christensen, spokesman for the Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality (MERGE), the group that laid the complaint two years ago against The Family Centre.

He said he knows of no other Canadian case in which discrimination against men has been recognized by a human rights commission or court.

MERGE's complaint was sparked by a Family Centre brochure that the group said promoted the idea that only men are abusive in relationships, perpetuating the belief that wives and mothers are always blameless.

"The brochures," said Mr. Christensen, a former philosophy professor, "contributed to a climate that denies to males the services of police, the court system and social services, among others."

The main legal basis for MERGE's case was research it tabled that shows men and women are equally likely to be physically and emotionally abusive toward their partners and children.

MERGE alleged that issuing a brochure that purported otherwise constituted discrimination on gender grounds.

It also alleged the brochure broke provincial law.

The Family Centre withdrew the original brochure and issued four replacements to address the issue of female violence toward men. But the Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled the replacements also discriminated against men because they suggested male violence is different than female violence and that women deserve more help.

"The clear, if unstated message," says the commission's ruling, "is that males are the cause of the violence in intimate relationships and they are, as a result, less deserving of services -- or at least services equal to those offered women."

The ruling also questions why it was necessary for brochures intended merely to inform the public about available social services even to differentiate between men and women.

The Family Centre chose not to appeal the ruling.

Rod Rode, executive director of the Family Centre, said the centre does not discriminate or deny the existence of male victims of violence.

"We have always helped, and will continue to help, all victims of family violence," he said. "Not too many are men, but some are."

Mr. Rode said the four replacement brochures have been replaced with one generic brochure listing The Family Centre's counselling services and stating that they are available to both men and women.

Mr. Christensen said the brochures perpetuated a stereotype that is reflected in government policy.

"The brochures were about abusive men and abused women," he said. "There wasn't a word that even suggested the possibility that it worked the other way. By all the evidence we have, women are harmed more often than men, but there are plenty of men who are physically harmed when there is violence in the family. It is dishonest to say otherwise."

Mr. Christensen said his group will join Liberal MP Roger Gallaway at a news conference today to discuss the ruling and push for changes to Canada's Divorce Act.

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