August 21, 2019 by Ginger Gentile, Deputy Executive Director, National Parents Organization
Can people from different ideological persuasions work together for a shared goal? You bet! My friendship with Robert Samery, one of the founders of the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), is a great example. Not only is CAFE the largest financial supporter of my documentary, Erasing Family, but I had the pleasure of tabling with Robert at many conferences. I’m impressed by how he is able to talk to anyone. He created an organization that is not only bold in its initiatives, but friendly and welcoming!
So, what’s in CAFE’s secret sauce? Canadians are just nicer, eh? Between screenings of my film Erasing Family at the American Psychological Conference, I was able to ask some questions about working with feminists, domestic violence groups, and building a broad coalition for family court reform.
Ginger: Robert, can you tell me about the mission of the Canadian Association for Equality?
Robert: We deal with equality issues in general and focus on boys’ and men’s issues in Canada. We are a boys’ and men’s issues organization- not a men’s rights organization. Family law is one of our main areas of focus.
Ginger: Have you seen any shift in the understanding of the general public since you’ve started working on family court issues?
Robert: When I started dealing with these issues about 15 years ago, there was denial that this was even an issue. This is no longer the case. People now have more understanding in how lack of equal-shared parenting can cause harm.
Ginger: Have you seen any shifts in politicians?
Robert: I think politicians in Canada are dragging behind. What we’ve seen recently is that politicians are falling behind public opinion. For example, the presumption of equal-shared parenting, which has enormous public support, didn’t make it into a bill to reform the divorce law.
Ginger: Because we’ve tabled together at several conferences, I’m always impressed by how many women come to speak with you and offer to help CAFE in its mission. Why do you think you and CAFE have positive interactions with women, while other similar organizations often scare women away?
Robert: When men in particular come to this issue from their own personal experiences, they can be very angry. At CAFE, we developed a culture that doesn’t focus on the negative aspects of what’s happening, but instead focuses on what we can build up rather than tear down. That seems to be much more attractive to almost everybody, and works better than blaming!
Ginger: Tell me about the recent success you had at your conference in early August, focusing on how it relates to family court issues.
Robert: What was surprising about our conference, “Momentum,” was that leaders from the violence against women movement who had been working in the field for 20-30 years insisted that they speak at our conference. They stated that the domestic violence movement misses the mark when it comes to both the clients and families of shelters. They view, as we do, that these are not gender specific issues, but are issues that affect entire families. Perpetrators ought to be held accountable, but they also need support. They need counseling to learn how to better resolve their issues and ensure that they don’t become violent in the future.
Ginger: Have you met women who identify as feminists who would support a presumption of equal-shared parenting after divorce or separation?
Robert: Many feminists I’ve met support the presumptive equal-shared parenting portion of the Family Law Act. Another topic they agree with us on is triaging high-conflict cases.
Ginger: So, just because you disagree with people doesn’t mean you can’t have a good working relationship with them.
Robert: We don’t share a great deal with many of those on the left side of the political spectrum, and yet many people from the left side were welcomed and able to speak at our conference. We focus on the similarities rather than differences. People who we may disagree with on certain issues, even very strong ones, are still able to be loyal partners on other things.
Ginger: What are some of the commonalities that you have with feminists?
Robert: We both agree that the victims must be supported. It’s in the best interest of children to have relationships with both parents. We can engage far left-leaning feminists on that issue, because there is more acceptance that victims can be male or female. There was a time when the Premier of the province of Ontario said that although men could be victims of domestic violence, they comprised significantly less than 1% of the population of victims. That false viewpoint is no longer expressed! We search out commonalities rather than differences and move forward on what we have in common, rather than highlight our differences.