Groups pressure BMO Vancouver Marathon to remove men's charity from annual run

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Five community organizations are expressing concern that a Canadian registered charity associated with the men's rights movement is participating in the annual BMO Vancouver Run4Hope marathon.

The Canadian Association for Equality Vancouver branch is one of eight community charities involved with the annual run.

Each year, run participants ask sponsors to donate to any of these organizations, which are listed as community charities. There are also national and official charities from which to choose.

But some community organizations are upset that the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) was selected as a community charity for the marathon, and they want marathon officials to remove the group from the event.

"People have accepted statements from a minority of people that have loud voices that are spreading lies about our organization that are untrue," said Phil Johnston, the Vancouver branch director of CAFE.

Johnston is referring to allegations that CAFE has, in the past, distorted statistics regarding domestic and sexual violence.

The men's group says it advocates for men and boys. Johnston says CAFE is an "evidence-based" organization that gets its statistics from neutral organizations such as Statistics Canada, and is not sure why his group draws such fire for trying to shine a light on male mental-health issues.

"We are not making up numbers here," he said.

But critics disagree.

"This organization pushed their agenda by perpetuating information that is not accurate in regards to sexual assault and domestic violence that happens across Canada," said Greg Oudman, executive director of the Vancouver-based Health Initiative for Men.

The groups that signed the petition include White Ribbon, Health Initiative for Men, Battered Women's Support Services, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, and Women Against Violence Against Women.

They want Run Vancouver, which organizes the event, to replace CAFE with another charity that advocates for men and boys.

Run Vancouver sent CBC News a statement in response, which read in part "Charities are not sponsors of the Vancouver International Marathon and their participation in the marathon should not be construed as an endorsement by the marathon."

"Nonetheless we take seriously any and all concerns brought to our attention and will review this matter thoroughly to ensure that our guiding objectives are indeed being fulfilled."

BMO did not respond to CBC's request for an interview.

According to CAFE's website, its mandate is to "[achieve] equality for all Canadians."

It says it focuses on men's issues because resources are "significantly underdeveloped compared to the resources in other important areas of social improvement."

Registered charity

CAFE obtained registered charity status with Canada Revenue Agency in 2014.

In 2015, the group unveiled a controversial billboard campaign in Toronto that said half of all domestic abuse victims are men.

CAFE has also been banned from Ryerson University in Toronto and the Toronto Pride Parade, among others.

Recently, a representative from Run Vancouver told the organizations that signed the protest letter that their concerns would be addressed at an upcoming BMO board meeting, according to Oudman.

Johnston said his group is "not quite" a men's rights group, and "does not explicitly associate with that movement."

Men's rights groups, which have grown in popularity recently, argue that many men are unfairly treated by society and the justice system. Some say services for domestic and sexual violence are unfairly geared toward women.

Johnston said the group focuses on advocating for men because "we feel like that's where the greatest amount of inequity is overall."

"There's an attitude about men's rights that it's a misogynistic group of people that are antagonistic towards progress that women have made," said Johnston, who insists that CAFE does not seek to minimize or de-legitimize women's issues.

His group has started a petition asking people to support CAFE's inclusion in the marathon.

"People are threatened by the idea that men can suffer too."

Johnston said the proceeds collected from the marathon would help fund legal aid for men and the creation of a centre for men and families.

'Significant issues for men'

Oudman signed the letter after a concerned marathon participant raised the issue.

He said many issues that CAFE highlights, including male suicide rates and mental health concerns, are important ones.

"As a gay men's health organization, we know those are significant issues for men," he said.

But he argued that the group, in its bid to promote the rights of men and boys, has distorted statistics on victims of violence.

Clay Jones, with White Ribbon, a group that encourages men to become involved in fighting violence against women, said he was surprised Run Vancouver accepted CAFE as a charity despite its history.

"It's really important for corporate-backed organizations to do their due diligence and make sure that they're working with organizations that are doing good in the community," Jones said.

"It is important to highlight issues that men face, but it needs to be done from a holistic framework and not from one that blames feminism for a lot of the ills that men face right now."