Who is Justin Trottier?

I was walking down to the Canadian Centre for Men and Families on Carleton Street where I had arranged to meet with Justin Trottier, the executive director of the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), to try to find out what he, and his organization, truly stand for.

CAFE has been widely called a ‘men’s rights association’ (MRA) which, critics allege, exhibits thinly veiled misogyny. CAFE commonly advertises events on campus, some of which have attracted protests from feminist groups, and student unions. Like any organization, CAFE is given life by an impassioned group of people. I was curious to talk to the person leading the charge.

Trottier is no stranger to The Varsity. During his undergraduate years at U of T he was a frequent contributor to the Science section until 2006, when he graduated with a degree in Applied Science and Engineering. He has also served on The Varsity’s Board of Directors. In 2007, he was assaulted at Ryerson University while putting up posters advertising a secular event and argued that this incident was a hate-motivated crime. In response, The Varsity’s editorial board at the time wrote that he should “start working on [his] left hook, and leave the Charter defense to the real victims.”

Trottier greeted me outside and led me upstairs to his office. I first asked him how he got involved with CAFE and men’s issues activism.

“I got involved with all this primarily as a result of my participation with a number of social justice organizations,” he said. Trottier went on to explain that he has been involved in the LGBT movement, in secular and humanist causes, and the environmental movement. He also mentioned his stint as a Green Party candidate in the 2011 provincial election, in which he received 1,325 votes in the riding of Parkdale-High Park.

“One of the things I noticed, not just me but others who worked with me to found the organization, was that men’s issues were an ignored or a marginalized component of a lot of social justice movements and our concern was that by ignoring that piece, we were not being fair to men and their families because men have legitimate health issues and other kinds of issues,” he said.

A disdain for labels

Trottier refuses to label himself as a feminist and told me that, in his opinion, “feminism and women’s rights are not the same thing.” However, according to CAFÉ’s website, the organization does not identify as a men’s rights group either. I asked Trottier to elaborate on this.

He said that the group sees itself as a “public education organization,” and explained that it achieved charity status with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as a public benefit organization.

“[The CRA] will look at your website, they will look at your videos, they will look at the events that you’ve had. They will ask you bunch of questions. They will ask you to provide research to back up what you’re saying if they question it, and then they will decide if you’re a public benefit organization,” Trottier explained.

Trottier  brought our conversation to the work that the Centre for Men and Families, a CAFE initiative, has been doing, saying, “We’re also providing social services like free counseling, free peer support, free legal aid, free fathering programs to both men and women, and that’s our focus.”

In pursuit of this mandate, Trottier says wlabels are an unnecessary distraction.

“We focus on the mission and mandate that I’m explaining to you: the social services, the public education. We just find that those labels, they’re conversation-enders. They’re not conversation starters.”

I asked Trottier if there was anything else that distinguishes CAFE from MRAs, beyond its charity status. Once again, he stressed the work that the Centre has been doing.

“If you want to call that an MRA, you can do that and some people do. But I’m not interested in that. That’s an academic debate that I’m not interested in having.”

“Judge us by the company that we keep and the activity that we do and the groups that we’re serving. And let’s not fixate on these labels.”

“The company that we keep”

CAFE gained particular infamy on campus in 2012 when it, along with the its affiliated campus club, Men’s Issues Awareness at U of T, hosted controversial academic Warren Farrell for an event. Farrell is perhaps best known for his book, The Myth of Male Power, in which he claims the existence of systematic discrimination against men.

The event that hosted Farrell on campus was met with protests organized by feminists on campus, as well as the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). National media was also watching, as tensions were high and police presence heavy. Protesters barricaded the entrance to the event, fire alarms were pulled, and there were reports of physical assault from both sides.

I asked Trottier how CAFE could reconcile its mission of equality with someone like Warren Farrell, whose views are widely perceived to be sexist. He described Farrell’s views as “provocative” but added, “This is a guy who has some very interesting ideas. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them.”

However, breaching the subject of the Warren Farrell event turned Trottier defensive, and he asked me why it seems that is “the only thing The Varsity cares about. Let’s have an honest discussion about what our organization is all about,” he said. “That was three and a half years ago. Since then, we built Toronto’s first men’s health centre. It’s just interesting to see what the media continues to fixate on.”

On or off campus

In September, after online threats  were made against feminists at U of T, CAFE moved one of its scheduled events to a nearby hotel off campus, on the advice of the University administration.

Trottier said that the administration actually recommended postponing the event until “things settle down” rather than simply moving the event off campus, but for logistical reasons, the event could not be postponed.

Nevertheless, Trottier promised that CAFE would host more events on campus in short measure.

“We will definitely keep having events like that,” said Trottier. “Why shouldn’t we? Men’s help is absolutely vital. It’s just as important as the healthcare of any other group and we’re going to keep having events at U of T.”