The founders of a Canadian men's rights group have filed a lawsuit against a university's student union after its application to become a campus-recognized group was rejected.

Ryerson University undergraduates Kevin Arriola and Alexandra Godlewski created the Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) last fall. According to Arriola and Godlewski's lawsuit, MIAS submitted its application to Ryerson Students' Union (RSU) on Oct. 19, 2015, and was rejected on Oct. 27.

RSU said it rejected the application because MIAS added no "unique value to campus."

“The group was denied status with notice of five concerns brought forward by the committee, and three core reasons by the Board of Directors,” RSU president Andrea Bartlett told NTRSCTN. “These included concern over no added unique value to campus."

The New York Times reported that men's rights activism dates as far back as 1926, with The League for Men's Rights dedicated to "combating all excesses of women's emancipation.” The group's existence was based on the belief that marriage and family laws which obligated men to pay spousal or child support, were oppressive. This later sparked a men’s liberation movement in the 1970s, which was a direct response to growing feminist initiatives, according to Judith Newton's book, From Panthers to Promise Keepers: Rethinking the Men's Movement.

According to the lawsuit, MIAS aims to bring awareness to issues that disproportionately affect men, such as suicide, homelessness, school failure, and workplace injuries. RSU invited Arriola and Godlewski to meet with Student Groups Committee several times during the application process to discuss the nature of their group before they were formally rejected.

“MIAS was not rejected because we don’t think gender issues are worth talking about,” Bartlett said. “Many of these topics are already covered through equity centers and other student groups RSU supports. MIAS also refused to alter their proposal or compromise on initiatives.” 

Calgary-based law firm Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed the suit against RSU on behalf of Arriola and Godlewski. The firm says it aims to defend "fundamental freedoms" for all Canadians.

MIAS was not rejected because we don’t think gender issues are worth talking about.

“RSU is a public body receiving mandatory student union fees from all students, but even if it were a purely private association, it would still need to comply with its own policies, which state expressly that RSU supports the free expression rights and free association rights of all students attending Ryerson U,” JCCF president John Carpay told NTRSCTN

Carpay believes MIAS supports women's equality, and that it should be an official student group even if it didn't. “It’s my understanding that MIAS fully supports women’s equality; however, even if MIAS did not have that view, MIAS (and other campus clubs) have the right to express their opinions and to form campus clubs, without needing to comply with the beliefs or ideology of the RSU,” he said.

Since forming, MIAS has received backlash from students, faculty, and other student organizations. Ryerson Feminist Collective (RFC) created an online petition against the group last December for causing “alarm amongst students, administration, faculty members, feminists, sexual assault survivors and those with marginalized identities on campus.” 

“We don't think having a men's rights groups on campus contributes to a safe and equity-based culture at Ryerson,” RFC co-founder Alyson Rogers told NTRSCTN“We have had students express safety concerns about having such a group on campus in terms of personal safety, as well as safety related to the type of toxic, anti-feminist culture that comes with these groups." 

Last year, several death threats were made against feminists at the University of Toronto, Metro Toronto reported. Rogers said RFC has been in touch with them and that men's rights group Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) was accused of being the source of harassment. According to RSU, Arriola and Godlewski received personal coaching from CAFE, which is one reason their application was rejected.

"We are wary of recognizing and funding groups who are already receiving outside support," Bartlett said. "This strikes the issue on whether this group is interested in supporting the needs of RSU members, or if they are looking to support the interests of an external organization.” 

While Carpay argues that all issues deserve a platform, RSU and RFC believe the important question is whether or not MIAS is actually promoting equity.

We don't think having a men's rights groups on campus contributes to a safe and equity-based culture at Ryerson.

“Having them on campus isn't beneficial to men either, as they are not adequately addressing men's issues,” RFC co-founder Rogers said. “Several men's issues stem out of the gender expectations of men within patriarchy.”

For her part, Bartlett said, “The group refused to acknowledge the reality of patriarchy and other systemic issues of privilege, which runs contrary to the core equity values of the RSU as an organization.”

The lawsuit will have its first hearing on April 25 at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto.