On December 7th, 2016, a coalition called Expand the Inquiry launched a petition asking that the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) be widened to include Indigenous men and boys.[1] This coalition includes a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, but in the main is being directed by Adam Jones, a non-Indigenous professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, Ernie Crey, chief of Cheam First Nation, and the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE).

On its face, the call for a gender inclusive national inquiry seems to be grounded in a desire for equality in the examination of violence against Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is undeniable that Indigenous peoples of all genders face disproportionate levels of violence in this country. Understanding the root causes of that violence is absolutely necessary in order to create and implement anti-violence programs and support.

Since at least 2014, and certainly even before that, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys (MMIMB) have been trying to raise public awareness of their struggles for justice. Organizations like Stolen Sisters Awareness March, who were instrumental in the struggle to bring attention to the issue of MMIWG, have also sponsored events to support these families.[2] Just as over 20 years of organizing around MMIWG made space for a wider discussion about the specific kinds of violence Indigenous women and girls face, the space is now being made to examine what particular factors lead to such a high proportion of MMIMB.

What is worrisome is that the issue of MMIMB seems to have drawn the attention and even sponsorship of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). MRAs “contend that men are discriminated against in law, education and government funding, and that feminism is to blame for this.”[3] MRA organizations are explicitly anti-feminist, unlike the other stream of mainstream masculinities studies that Robert Innes describes as being guided by feminist and queer theory and praxis.[4]

In the context of the National Inquiry into MMIWG, the MRA narrative being asserted is that the lack of attention to MMIMB is the fault of feminists. I want to highlight the way in which these anti-feminist MRA interventions in the MMIWG inquiry reinforce the imposition of white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy on Indigenous peoples. Rather than helping to raise awareness of MMIMB, accepting the allyship and sponsorship of MRAs without interrogating the analytical framework they apply to violence against Indigenous peoples, has the potential to undermine important work being done by Indigenous families and organizations who are struggling to raise the profile of MMIMB.

What’s the problem with CAFE?

The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) is a non-profit Men’s Rights organization headquartered in Toronto, with branches in six other Canadian cities, and with sixteen affiliated University campus groups. They applied for charitable status in 2013, which the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) granted in 2014.

There were some questions raised about this application however, as CAFE listed a number of names of feminist and gay rights organizations that have absolutely no ties to the group whatsoever. Included on CAFE’s application were the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), Egale Canada, and Status of Women Canada. An online Toronto publication, NOW, contacted these organizations and were told they had been listed without consent.[5]

CAFE also listed individuals on the application without their knowledge or consent, including a women’s studies scholar from Queen’s University. The application detailed CAFE’s uncontroversial activities but omitted speaking events that had sparked anti-hate speech protests and were widely covered in the media.

It is notable that this application was approved at a time when the Harper government introduced restrictions on the political activities of charities under the Income Tax Act. According to those rules, only 10 per cent of a charity’s activities are allowed to be political. Any more and organizations run the risk of having their charitable status removed. Environmental and human-rights non-profits were hit especially hard with CRA tax audits as a result. For example, Canada Without Poverty was audited in 2015 and told they were using 98.5 per cent of their resources on political activities.[6]

Under CRA policy, which has not yet been changed by the current Liberal government, activities are presumed to be political if a charity: [7]

  • explicitly communicates a call to political action;
  • explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained, opposed, or changed; etc.

With such broad restrictions, there is certainly pressure on non-profit organizations to downplay their political advocacy. Much of what can be found on CAFE’s website is characterized as educational, with a smaller portion of the site dedicated to political advocacy, such the Expand the Inquiry campaign. In their promotional materials, CAFE is careful to focus on their slogan “equality means equality for everyone” rather than promoting explicitly anti-feminist positions.

However, CAFE organizers and members have not minced words off the main website. David Shackleton sits on CAFE’s board of directors, and is President of the Ottawa branch.[8] He made his views on feminism very clear in 1999 as editor and publisher of Everyman: A Men’s Journal: [9]

“…feminine evil is taking over our culture, and feminism is the leading and driving ideology of this process. This situation has its roots in our childraising practice in the last fifty years, and is directly analagous [sic] to the historical rise of Nazism in Germany. The resulting human misery and destruction is already massive, and seems likely to exceed that of WWII.”

As disturbing as this claim is, Shackleton later expanded upon the perceived evils of feminism in a blog post about the 1989 murder of fourteen female engineering students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique when he explained that “Marc Lepine wasn’t trying to kill women. He was trying to kill feminists.” Shackleton goes on to state that feminism is founded on the false belief “that men as a gender have more power than women.” He asserts that “power between men and women is balanced and has been throughout history.” Marc Lepine’s murderous rampage was therefore the result of feminism undermining this balance. Shackleton ominously asks whether Lepine is “perhaps, representative of a possible future, one in which men, shamed beyond endurance by a male-hating Feminist establishment, strike out in desperation at those they judge responsible?”[10]

This rhetorical turn, which mischaracterizes feminism as being “male-hating”, dismisses feminist analyses of patriarchy as untrue, as well as actually blaming feminism for violence against women, is not an uncommon MRA tactic.

Janice Fiamengo, Vice-President of CAFE’s Ottawa branch, also demonstrates her views on feminism off CAFE’s main website. In a series of videos, she identifies as anti-feminist and says that feminism is “about special privileges and advantages for women and special exemptions from responsibility.”[11] On the issue of women gaining the right to vote, Fiamengo explains that “to say that women were not allowed to vote throughout history is like saying that they weren’t allowed to flap their wings and fly. Almost no one, including women themselves thought they should.”[12]

Fiamengo’s husband and member of CAFE, David Solway, has waxed even more eloquent on the issue of the female franchise, stating that “a disinterested survey of the matter… suggests a preponderance of negative effects stemming from the female franchise” contending that women being granted the right to vote has weakened Western nations.[13]

Fiamengo and Solway are not merely anti-feminists, they are also proudly anti-Muslim. In a 2016 co-authored piece, Fiamengo and Solway discuss “the growing epidemic of rape, forced prostitution and sexual molestation associated with the Muslim entry into western societies”, but caution about focusing too much on “certain classes of victims” (gays and young women) at the expense of caring about how Muslim immigration impacts straight men and their sons.[14] Solway warns that “we are engaged in a war… that has gone on for fourteen centuries” with Muslims and that “Islamic immigration must be drastically curtailed if not completely stopped.” He also insists that for Muslims already settled in the West, “surveillance must be intensive, methodical and ongoing” and “all mosques, which are effectively command centers, must be stringently investigated and many must be closed down.”[15]

In May of 2016, Fiamengo appeared on a white nationalist radio program Radio 3Fourteen.[16] The program is endorsed by the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer[17] and features episodes with titles like “Dr. David Duke – A New Paradigm for True Human Diversity and Freedom”.[18] Fiamengo agreed with Radio 3Fourteen’s host who condemned white, Western feminists for not addressing the “true rape epidemic” by Middle Eastern migrants and said, “rather than doing that, she [the feminist] aligns herself with those cultures as the supposed victims of white, Western, patriarchal tyranny. And that means that feminism has declared a kind of peace agreement with Islam.” Fiamengo has made similar arguments before, asking in 2015 whether there is “any group among progressives who might still refuse to become Sharia-compliant?”[19]

Another CAFE member and associate on their Multimedia Committee is filmmaker Steven Brulé. He created Studio Brulé to film and host various videos including the “Fiamengo File” series. He is the person who filmed and hosted the latest videos for Expand the Inquiry.

Brulé has used the website A Voice For Men (AVfM) to raise funds to have a film called The Red Pill screened in various locations. It is important to be aware that the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), a non-profit legal advocacy organization that specializes in civil rights and public interest legislation (cutting their teeth on civil suits against the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1980s) have identified AVfM as an openly misogynist website community.[20] Steven Brulé is also working on a biographical film about Paul Elam, the founder of AVfM. This is not CAFE’s first or only link to AVfM, as a former board member, Dan Perrins was the Canadian News Director for their website.[21] CAFE events have also been heavily promoted and covered by AVfM over the years.

A cursory examination of the histories and writings of a great number of CAFE leaders and members uncover similar attitudes and questionable ties to other outwardly bigoted organizations. Given the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples to systemic racism, these positions cannot be ignored.

In early December, 2016, the Mayfair theatre in Ottawa pulled its screening of The Red Pill and refunded CAFE their booking fee. Co-owner of the theatre, Lee Demarbre had heard that CAFE was spreading hate and homophobia on campus “but from the group’s online presence, he says he couldn’t find evidence that hate was their primary motive”. After theatre members and advertisers raised concerns, and the film was pulled, Demarbre says he received death threats from supporters of CAFE and the film. “All these women who said these guys spread hate and homophobia – now I’ve seen that it’s true.”[22]

This alignment by leaders and dedicated members of CAFE with self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and virulently misogynist organizations in order to pursue the shared causes of anti-feminism and Islamophobia is concerning. While CAFE’s website does not make these connections clear, and in fact attempts quite successfully to present a highly sanitized version of its core anti-feminist beliefs, it is not difficult to find these links. A major point I am attempting to make with this paper is that relying on the allyship and sponsorship of racist and misogynist groups is inherently compromising and cannot be viewed as a neutral act. CAFE’s alliances and connections with such organizations, as well as their own problematic behaviours, are not something that Indigenous people hoping to raise awareness of MMIMB should ignore.

Can a feminist be an MRA?

This leads me to Adam Jones, arguably the focal point for most of the media attention on MMIMB in the last few years. He has certainly received more sustained media attention in the last year and a half than any of the families of MMIMB who have been struggling for years to tell their stories.

A professor in comparative genocide studies, Jones has conducted no academic research on or with Indigenous peoples in Canada. Nonetheless, Jones says that a major theme in comparative genocide studies is the way in which Indigenous peoples around the world are vulnerable to imperial violence and genocide, so he believes he understands the issues.[23] Unlike CAFE, which at no time acknowledge racialization or colonialism in their analysis of violence against MMIMB, Jones does mention: “the white/European racism, hubris and obliviousness that continues to fuel the aboriginal social crisis and to prompt violence by whites/Europeans against aboriginal women and men.”[24] Whether his analysis is informed by any knowledge of the history of ongoing colonization in Canada is unclear.

Jones identifies as a feminist, and gives credit to the feminist movement for having “first placed the variable of gender on the table”.[25] This would seem to mean he cannot be an MRA, as that movement is defined by its anti-feminism. Nonetheless, even as a self-professed feminist, Jones engages in the same kinds of rhetorical tactics as MRAs. In particular, he mischaracterizes feminism, claiming that “feminists think gendered violence can only be the gendered violence that men inflict against women, not the violence that women inflict against women, not the violence that men inflict against men”.[26] This claim is not even remotely accurate, and is indeed a strange thing to assert when identifying as a feminist; if this were true, why would Jones be so interested in identifying this way?[27] If feminism really were about “ignoring half of the human race” as he claims, wouldn’t he want to distance himself from such a theoretical framework? Jones never addresses this contradiction, and identifying as a feminist does serve the important function of making it much harder to name someone’s arguments as being anti-feminist.

Positioning men’s issues as being the fault of feminism is another MRA tactic. As Adam Jones put it in a 2015 National Post opinion piece, “the campaign to highlight the victimization and extermination of aboriginal women has become a feminist cause célèbre (including an aboriginal-feminist one), in a way that has suffocated consideration of even more pervasive patterns of violence among and against all aboriginal Canadians, including men and boys.”[28]

In making this claim, Jones does not demonstrate an understanding of the history of organizing around MMIWG. During an interview with Rosanna Deerchild, Jones made a similar assertion and was informed by Deerchild that the families of MMIWG, not “feminists” had been instrumental in raising awareness of the issue.[29] In fact, mainstream feminism had very little to do with raising awareness of MMIWG.

Giving credit where credit is due

Despite being characterized by Jones as a feminist issue, or one whose work is being done by women, for women, it has mostly been the families of MMIWG who searched for their loved ones, contacted the media, staged rallies, and began researching the numbers. It must be recognized that Ernie Crey, another leader of the Expand the Inquiry coalition, is one of those family members.

Unlike CAFE and Adam Jones, who have no history of advocacy for Indigenous peoples in Canada prior to the massive media attention advocates for MMIWG were finally able to garner on the issues, Ernie Crey has been a staunch supporter of MMIWG for many years, and has been very vocal about what he saw as impediments to there being a federal inquiry in the first place. As Crey explained in 2011:[30]

“Unfortunately, both Ottawa and the RCMP, especially the RCMP, seem to be shot through with an endemic case of misogyny… with these old school attitudes towards women permeating both the halls of power in Ottawa and the RCMP, is it any wonder that aboriginal women’s advocacy organizations in the country sought the intervention of the UN to inquire into the disappearances and deaths of so many aboriginal women?”

In fact, a great many men both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have been involved in organizing around MMIWG. Journalist Lindsay Kines began writing about women who had gone missing along the infamous Highway of Tears, as early as 1995. He started covering disappearances from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver in 1997. When Kines realized the issue was bigger than one missing woman, he set up a toll free tip line to tackle the issue. He is widely credited as creating the #MMIW hashtag, though he insists:

“I’d prefer to give the credit to the families and friends of the missing women for pushing the story forward. They kept insisting that something bad had happened to their loves ones, and their prodding kept me digging. Sadly, they were right all along.”[31]

Mainstream feminist organizations were not heavily involved in advocacy for MMIWG until very recently. While Indigenous organizations like the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) have struggled for decades to address the specific issues facing Indigenous women as well as their families and communities, many people within that organization do not identify as feminist.

The complexities of Indigenous feminism (or rejection of the term altogether) bear examination when we look for alternatives to MRA characterizations of MMIWG and MMIMB.

Indigenous feminism?

Mainstream feminism, in its various waves and iterations, is often associated with white women and their particular historical context, lacking analysis of class and racialization. As a result of this, diverse Black, Indigenous, and women of colour have distanced themselves from the term “feminism” by creating other terms for a gender analysis that includes the legacy of colonization and racialization, such as Womanism, and Indigenous feminism.

Others reject these terms altogether, arguing that within traditional Indigenous societies (as one example), gender equality was already a foundational principle, and mainstream feminism is incompatible with a restoration of those traditions.[32] However Indigenous women identify, as Indigenous feminists, or merely members of their specific Indigenous nation (with the implication that gender equality is something to be restored, not created anew), an analysis of gender that ignores the history of colonization in this country makes very little sense.

Discussing women’s issues in the context of ongoing colonial violence has not been easy. As Luana Ross puts it, “while Native women were ready to dialogue about sexism [in the 1980s], they were not ready to air their dirty laundry into the white women’s world… Native women were not about to turn their men over to a white criminal justice system.”[33] Grace Ouellette explains that Indigenous women who joined NWAC “became a part of this organization to challenge Canada’s colonial policy”, and that the need for such an organization arose because of the Canadian state’s specific exclusion of Indigenous women from Indigenous delegations to national conferences held by the federal government.[34]

Lisa Kahaleole Hall makes the connection between colonialism and gendered discrimination even clearer:

“The deliberate destruction of non-heteronormative and monogamous social relationships, the indigenous languages that could conceptualize these relationships, and the cultural practices that celebrated them has been inextricable from the simultaneous colonial expropriation of land and natural resources.”[35]

An analysis of violence against Indigenous women or men, that does not explicitly take into account the way in which white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy has been a vital component of the colonial project, cannot be said to serve Indigenous peoples. To the contrary, in focusing solely on gender, the colonial project is bolstered through its invisibility. This is precisely why MRA groups, led mostly by white men, with their singular focus on women and feminism as “enemies”, are not the allies Indigenous peoples want, or need.

MMIMB don’t need MRAs as advocates

The shocking levels of violence faced by Indigenous men and boys cannot be explained by focusing on “feminism”, and the lack of attention that has so far been given to MMIMB cannot be blamed on Indigenous women. In fact, making this claim erases the labour of both men and women who fought against astounding indifference and hostility to have these discussions finally take place in mainstream society.

To swoop in, two decades after the fact, dictating terms based on flawed understandings of both the history of MMIWG organizing and of (Indigenous) feminism, is not helpful, nor is it allyship. Indigenous peoples need to be the ones leading the creation of any terms of reference that would include MMIMB (if that is something Indigenous peoples want this inquiry to do), without the interference of MRA groups. Especially when such groups are notorious for decontextualizing domestic violence statistics to downplay violence against women, and making false claims such as this one by CAFE spokesperson, Justin Trottier, who declared that “we’ve had many, many inquiries into murdered and missing girls and women; this isn’t the first one.”[36] As Stephanie Cram points out, there has been no federal or provincial inquiry that has ever considered the unique circumstances of MMIWG.

Theoretical frameworks that claim advocacy for women and girls has disadvantaged and harmed men and boys, is not something likely to mesh well with Indigenous worldviews that are in the main gender complementarian and non-adversarial. Not to mention the almost complete lack of analysis of colonialism as a factor in violence against Indigenous women and men. As well, Indigenous feminist frameworks already have space within which to examine the gendered nature of violence against Indigenous men, rather than merely examining the violence perpetrated by those men.

Indigenous masculinities offers a counterpoint to the adversarial approach taken by MRA groups. Indigenous masculinities is a field of research that “builds on theories and praxis of Indigenous feminist and queer scholars to question the hegemonic nature of the ‘masculine’”.[37] Specifically, Indigenous masculinities sees itself as engaging in “a broader practice of gender-based analysis in the service of decolonization”.[38]

Most importantly, Indigenous masculinities offers examples of positive masculinities being enacted in communities, rather than examining masculinity only through a lens of deficit. As Innes and Anderson put it, an important step (unlikely to be taken by MRAs) is to acknowledge:

“Indigenous men do benefit from male privilege…at the same time, many experience a level of victimization, violence, and subordination based on their race and gender that is similar, though manifested in different ways, to that of Indigenous women, and that the oppression suffered by both is tied to the colonization and acquisition of Indigenous lands.”[39]

Ernie Crey has said that he did not vet CAFE, or Adam Jones before accepting their allyship and sponsorship.[40] For an issue as important as MMIMB, “they came forward to help” cannot be the sole criterion on how such allyship and sponsorship is obtained. Certainly, activists and advocates of Indigenous issues have always struggled with a lack of funds and media attention and that is a live concern in these situations. However, alliances go both ways and we must question: who is being supported when Indigenous peoples are used to legitimize the involvement of groups like CAFE, with their ties to neo-Nazi and openly misogynist organizations, in a coalition attempting to influence the National Inquiry on MMIWG?

More importantly, who is harmed?

If these questions have no satisfactory answers, then friends like these are worse than no friends at all.

Edit: December 28th

The backlash from MRAs has begun. I will not be allowing their misognist and abusive posts to be approved and put up here. But I will screenshot them for a collection to show how supporters of CAFE and of Men’s Rights Activism behave when they are questioned. Please note that in addition to personal attacks, many of these comments are also incredibly racist against Indigenous ppl (and others). There is also a strong anti-LGBTQ sentiment involved, so read at your own peril!

The growing collection can be found on my twitter: https://twitter.com/apihtawikosisan/status/814115790182092800