The controversial men's rights documentary The Red Pill will be screened at Ottawa City Hall on Sunday after the Mayfair Theatre cancelled its scheduled showing over complaints.
Theatre co-owner and programmer Lee Demarbre said long-time patrons and a sponsor threatened to stop doing business with the Ottawa venue if the film screening went ahead.
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American filmmaker Cassie Jaye said she was researching rape culture for her next documentary subject when she came across the men's right movement. She initially thought members of the group would fall into the categories of "rape apologists" or "victim blamers" but said she soon began questioning her own beliefs.
She found that the movement includes advocacy for fathers rights, male victims of domestic violence and male victims of sexual abuse, as well as discussions about male suicide rates, boys falling behind in school and men as more "disposable" than women.
"I've noticed that most of us are very quick to laugh and scoff at men's issues but if the genders were reversed that would be hateful, hate speech, sexist, misogynist. So that was what was really challenging me during filming — my sexism, I guess, toward men's issues," she told CBC News, adding that her own struggle became part of the documentary.
She said she used to call herself a feminist but has shed the label — even though she remains an advocate for women.
"You have to see the film to see why," she said.
Centre for men planned in Ottawa
The screening of The Red Pill in Ottawa was organized by the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), a men's issues group that has also planned showings in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.
Justin Trottier, co-founder of CAFE, said the message of the documentary is that "all human beings have issues — men have issues and women have issues and that what we really need to do is stop polarizing this debate and find common ground."
He added that CAFE will launch a funding campaign for a centre for men and families in Ottawa at Sunday's screening, emphasizing that there's a shortage of male-specific services of that nature. A donor has already pledged up to $25,000 to match other incoming funds, he said.
But Julie Lalonde, a vocal women's rights advocate who runs the anti-harassment movement Hollaback! Ottawa, described CAFE as an antagonist group that fudges the facts about domestic violence. She pointed to the group's 2015 billboard in Toronto that claimed half of all domestic abuse victims are men.
Freedom of expression 'abused'
Lalonde, one of several who complained to the Mayfair Theatre, called the documentary "misogynistic" though she said has only seen clips, not the entire film. She said a controversial film does not have an inherent right to be screened.
"They want to be painted as these poor victims of censorship because it feeds into this narrative that they constantly have that women get all the services, women get all the conversation and these men are left in the dust," she said.
"This idea of freedom of expression, oh my God, it is so abused in this country. ... No one has the right to have their film shown. And if you are proud to say your film is very controversial, it makes people uncomfortable, then don't be surprised if people don't want to see it of people don't want to show it."
Jaye said that aside from Ottawa, two venues in Australia cancelled screenings — organizers of the sold-out show in Melbourne found another venue while organizers in Sydney are still searching for a replacement.
She encouraged people to watch the documentary and discuss the theme afterwards — even if they disagree with the movement.
"If you believe that education is key, that knowing all sides to an argument can only make your own position stronger, then people should be willing to see this film without fear of what it may say or what kind of discussions it will inspire," she said.