Ottawa Citizen
Monday 19 June 2000

Not only men abusive: 'breakthrough' ruling

Brochures rejected by human rights panel ignored fact that women sometimes abuse men

Chris Cobb
The Ottawa Citizen

Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen / Carrying a sign saying Kids Need Dads Too, Emma Smith joined a Father's Day protest on Parliament Hill calling for judicial fairness to fathers. Story on page A7.

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

The ruling, to be announced today, is being hailed as 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 in Edmonton.

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. It said the brochure perpetuated the belief that wives and mothers are always blameless.

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

He 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."

The main legal basis for MERGE's complaint was research they 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 and broke provincial law. The human rights commission agreed.

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

The Family Centre chose not to appeal the ruling. Rod Rode, executive director of the Family Centre, refused to comment further on the matter Sunday but 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.

Documents show that the Family Centre fought hard against the complaint but have decided not to pursue the commission's initial ruling.

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

Mr. Gallaway co-chaired the joint Senate-House of Commons committee on custody and access, whose report, For the Sake of the Children, proposed changes that were received by federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan.

But Ms. McLellan angered Mr. Gallaway and other members of the committee when she said it could take up to three years and numerous studies and reports before any changes might be implemented.

"This issue has been reported to death," said Mr. Gallaway. "We need legislation not more reports."

The cornerstone of the committee's report was a new concept of shared parenting that would give both parents an automatic and equal say in the raising of their children, including mutual legal access to school and health records. It also recommended tougher penalties for custodial parents -- mainly mothers -- who routinely defy access orders by obstructing meetings between children and their non-custodial parent.

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen