Caboto Club to review men-only policy after public backlash
The Caboto Club in Windsor, Ont., is seen in this undated image from Google Maps.
The Caboto Club in Windsor is expected to discuss the possibility of admitting women as voting members for the first time in its 93-year history after coming under fire in recent weeks for its men-only policy.
A meeting of the board is scheduled for this Thursday, with another one to follow on Sunday.
The Giovanni Caboto Club drew criticism last week when Premier Kathleen Wynne cancelled a town hall meeting scheduled to take place at the club, citing its policy of allowing only men of Italian descent as voting members on the board.
"Premier Wynne is committed to supporting a fair, competitive and prosperous Ontario for everyone," Jennifer Beaudry, a spokeswoman for Wynne's office said of the cancellation. "That commitment extends to working with partners who reflect these values of equality and inclusiveness, and we need to make sure everyone feels comfortable attending events."
The Caboto Club, which regularly hosts business conferences, weddings, charity fundraisers and political rallies, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, the club says on its website that it has an "auxiliary" group for women that operates as a separate organization with its own board.
But the President of the Italian Women’s Club, an auxiliary club at Caboto, says no one has asked the women if they wanted the club’s policies to change.
The Italian Women’s Club was founded at the Caboto in 1930.
President Santina Ferrara says the women auxiliary members have been working alongside the club’s male members for decades, and she is concerned the negative attention is taking away from the millions of dollars raised in Windsor-Essex.
Ferrara tells CTV Windsor their group will discuss the issue, and decide as a group of 400 women if they want to change the club's constitution at their next meeting in March.
“I'm not saying that it’s perfect for them to be that way, but the public cannot forget all the good they've done, all the charities they've helped” said Ferrara.
NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle, whose riding is just steps away from the club, said several local organizations have stopped holding events there in recent years in response to the membership rules.
"The Caboto is one of the last (local cultural clubs) with that archaic patriarchal approach," Hardcastle added.
"I think that they've outgrown that, and I certainly hope they consider modernizing to better reflect their member families."
The club's directors have said they will discuss the possibility of changing their gender restrictions at a meeting Thursday, said Windsor City Councillor Bill Marra, who has been a member of the Caboto Club off and on for about 15 years.
Marra said he will rescind his membership if the club continues to bar female members.
"There are a number of people, like myself, who have been aware of (the club's) policies," Marra said. "But, in light of the environment we've been in over the last few months and the cause for concern around issues of equality, it's really magnified the issue and in my role in my community I personally don't feel I can ignore the question."
The club should "embrace this as an opportunity to evolve," he added.
Former Windsor-area labour leader Dino Chiodo, now the national auto sector representative for Unifor, said he became aware of the Caboto Club's men-only policy when Wynne cancelled her town hall event.
Chiodo, who was set to be named "Italian of the Year" by local Italian groups at an upcoming ceremony at the Caboto club, said he was part of a group of local business and union representatives who met with the club leaders over the weekend, asking them to update their rules.
"We said, 'Something has to change, you guys have to do something more progressive, you have to do something different, because Caboto is a pinnacle in our community and we want you to remain as such,"' Chiodo said.
Caboto Club leaders assured the group that they would discuss the issue at Thursday's board meeting, Chiodo added.
(with files from the Canadian Press)