Ottawa Citizen
Friday 6 July 2001

Just say no to apartheid

The Ottawa Citizen

So some women's groups still don't want to be in the same room with men as the federal government continues its "consultations" on changing the Divorce Act. They want the justice department to grant them female-only hearings on issues of child custody, access and support because sitting with men would amount to the "further subordination of women."

Justice Department officials must refuse the request because it offends every principle of democratic politics. The hearings involve a matter of public policy in a public institution paid for by taxpayers (many of them men). More crucially, to grant exclusivity within the policy process to any single group sets a bad precedent. Many groups have grievances in our society. Should they all be able to demand hearings that exclude all others? Will francophones no longer sit with anglophones? Will ethnic groups refuse to sit with their historic enemies?

Politics, of course, is always conflictual. But the essence of democratic politics is that conflicts are, ideally, settled through dialogue, in the give-and-take of debate. The prerequisite of dialogue, even if you disagree with the other party, is a willingness to listen respectfully to other views. Without that respect, you have the breeding ground for all kinds of group hatreds.

Unwittingly or not, this is what the women's groups are promoting with their request. They want a monologue; not a dialogue. Their request for a private hearing on public policy implies, like it or not, that other views are illegitimate and can be ignored or even suppressed. Such totalitarian attitudes do not suit our democratic system.

The Justice Department must not cave in to such a perversion of politics.

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.