The University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society, a registered campus group, and the Canadian Association for Equality, which sponsors frequent campus events, condemn unequivocally the outrageous online threat. We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have been made to fear for their safety.
That threat is the opposite of everything we represent. We are an anti-violence organization. We run a healthcare facility – the Canadian Centre for Men and Families – which provides counselling to victims of violence. We are co-hosting a conference next month, “Healing Journeys”, to bring together survivors of violence with medical professionals and advocates for violence prevention.
We also advocate for inclusive public policies that address violence against both women and men and which treat every individual equally and fairly. To further that objective, American columnist Cathy Young was invited to speak at the University of Toronto and at Saint Paul University in Ottawa next week, September 24th and 25th respectively.
While those lectures were planned months ago, recent events have required us to re-evaluate these plans. When news broke of the online threats, we contacted the University administration and the Women’s Studies department to make it clear we were their allies in our joint commitment to a safe campus. We stressed our dedication to do everything we could to guarantee student safety at our upcoming events, including an enhanced security presence and a safe walk service.
Yesterday we met with the administration to be briefed on the security situation. We did not have access to the full picture until that moment. The administration reiterated their commitment, one which we share, to balance the free exchange of ideas on campus with the safety of students.
It was their strong belief that holding the Cathy Young talk at this particular time at this particular place was just too risky. It is no secret that previous men’s issues and men’s health events have seen riots organized by groups opposed to these talks at which criminal and University rule-breaking behaviour has occurred, including bullying, harassment, the pulling of fire alarms and the blocking of exits. These actions are also deplorable, and dangerous.
The administration advised moving the event off campus or postponing it to a later date, at which point they would have no issue receiving Cathy Young at the University of Toronto.
Campus safety and the well-being of all those at our events is also our priority. But I am torn. Threats and intimidation must not be allowed to silence dissenting voices. Our talks are peaceful, educational and open conversations. We encourage differences of opinion. Our events are models of how sensitive topics should be discussed. When we cancel events we risk sending a signal that those who engage in bullying or intimidation will be successful when they apply their unacceptable tactics. In the long run that risks making the University a more dangerous place.
We are thankful that in our meeting with the administration we were able to have a frank conversation about these complex considerations. I understand the difficult situation the administration finds itself in and the competing priorities they must balance.
We have had many highly successful events at the University of Toronto. The administration has supported all of these, despite the difficulties I’ve described. We can therefore respect this one exception in which the circumstances are so extraordinary.
The Cathy Young event will proceed at the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville Hotel (220 Bloor Street West Toronto Ontario M5S 1T8). The location is proximate to campus so that those students who have registered to hear our thoughtful speaker address a critical topic can still participate. We will take up the administration’s promise and hold a similar event at the University as soon as we can arrange it.
Meanwhile we continue to call for an open forum with all parties affected by the current situation. We must come together with those who share a desire to preserve the University as an open space free of threats and intimidation where the exchange of ideas on critical but oftentimes sensitive issues can still occur. There is no other such place.
Canadian Association for Equality