By Chris Cobb
GROUPS CLAIMING VICTORY
Men’s groups are claiming victory following a decision by the Ontario government to pull two booklets they claimed were biased against men, even though a government spokesman said yesterday that the decision was not based on perceived gender bias. The booklets – “Your Day in Court”, and “Crimes Courts and Consequences” – were available at the Ontario government bookstore in Toronto, at provincial courtrooms and other government outlets across the province. They contain advice for women who are abused by their male partners. Men’s groups complained no equivalent advice is offered to males in situations of marital breakdown.
Provincial Attorney-General Charles Harnick ordered the booklets pulled off government shelves late last month after objections from men’s groups, led by the Calgary-based Men’s Educational Support Association. The electronic version of the booklets were also removed from the ministry’s Web site.
In a letter to MESA president Gus Sleiman, dated Jan. 20, Mr. Harnick’s assistant Sheila McDermott wrote on behalf of the minister: “Thank you for the concerns you raise regarding gender reference in these two booklets. I sincerely appreciate your drawing the oversight to our Ministry’s attention… we will immediately instruct the Ontario Publications Bookstore to remove these booklets from their inventory. In addition, we will also ensure your correspondence is referenced accordingly to avoid error, should the Ministry consider publishing the two booklets in the future.”
Yesterday, several hours after being asked for comment on the withdrawal of the booklets, attorney-general spokesman Brendan Crawley backed away from the letter to Mr.Sleiman. He said the government had removed the booklets because they were out of date.
“Too much is being read into the letter,” he said. “We made no judgment on gender bias.”
Mr. Sleiman, currently involved in his own child custody case in Ontario, found the booklets at the provincial court in Ottawa last August. He immediately fired off a letter of complaint to Mr. Harnick and, several weeks later, to the Ontario Ombudsman.
I was shocked that gender discrimination had reached so far into government,” said Mr. Sleiman, whose organization helps men with custody and other problems after marriage breakdown. ” The attorney – general of Ontario has done the honourable thing but I hope it’s just the first step to wiping out the bias that exists against men throughout the court system.”
The offending booklets give advice to women abused by their male partners but no information helpful to men.
Under the heading “What Happens if He Beats Me,” one booklet says: “Assaulting a wife or female partner is against the law. A man who assaults his partner can be arrested, charged and jailed. Call the police. Tell them everything. If they believe an assault has taken place, they can lay charges…Women’s shelters can help: Call 411 for the Wife Assault Helpline. They’ll put you in touch with women’s shelters where you can stay safely, with your children…”
The booklets continues: “You can get a restraining order: The court can issue an order which will make it an offence for which a man can be jailed if he harasses, intimidates, molests or annoys his spouse or partner.”
Danny Guspie, director of the National Shared Parenting Association, said Monday the booklets contain one-sided information dictated by women’s shelters.
“They make it sound like men beat women but nothing ever happens to men,” said Mr. Guspie. “It’s part of a systematic bias against men: There is no equivalent literature for men, there is no funding for men’s groups and no place for men to go in Canada if they need help after their marriage ends.”
Mr. Guspie said his group has tried to place information for men in Toronto courtrooms but has been barred from doing so.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate to deny that women often need help,” added Mr.Guspie, “but to suggest that men don’t have problems in these circumstances is also inappropriate.
We have taken to placing information outside courthouses because we have been denied access to the inside.”
In the Jan. 20 letter to MESA president Sleiman, Harnick’s office said 1,500 copies of the booklets would be removed from government inventory immediately and they were no longer being printed.