• MakeMoreNoise

The Harassment of Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter And Its Supporters

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

Credit: Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

It was announced a few days ago that Vancouver City Council would no longer be funding Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter due to the organisation’s policy of providing women only services. The decision follows a twenty-four year pattern of harassment from Trans Rights Activists.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is Canada’s oldest rape crisis centre and since its establishment in 1973 has remained committed to helping women and challenging male violence against women and children. The shelter was founded by a small collective seeking to help other women as there were no services provided by the state. It offers a 24-hour rape crisis line and a transitional house for vulnerable women but it is the shelter’s unapologetic stance of providing services for women only which has drawn the ire of trans activists. The women-only policy by default excludes transwomen, 80% of whom, it is estimated, retain male genitalia.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is committed to advocating for women’s equality. Our centre works as an active force dedicated to challenge the social attitudes, laws and institutional procedures that perpetuate male violence against women and children.

- Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter website statement

The City Council’s decision did not come out of the blue. It follows intense lobbying by some prominent trans activists such as Morgane Oger and Hailey Heartless who take issue with the women only policy. Women’s shelters, and most organisations with a feminist ethos at their centre, have always been targets of men’s rights advocates and Vancouver Rape Relief has endured a pattern of harassment perpetrated by trans activists for many years.

In 1995 Kimberly Nixon, a transwoman, filed a human rights complaint after applying to be a counsellor and being rejected on the grounds that Nixon was not born a woman and had not experienced oppression from birth. Vancouver Rape Relief offered a formal written apology, and suggested that Nixon could support the shelter by joining a fundraising committee. The shelter also offered $500 in acknowledgement of Nixon’s hurt feelings and requested mediation in order the make amends. Nixon rejected this offer and escalated the complaint to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, which was heard in 2000. Two years later the tribunal released the decision that they found in favour of Nixon and awarded $7,500 in compensation. However Vancouver Rape Relief sought a judicial review as they argued that discrimination was not present. The British Columbia Supreme Court set aside the decision of The Human Rights Tribunal, finding that the Tribunal had made an error as the shelter has the right to freedom of association as a women-only space, irrespective of gender identity. Nixon appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal who unanimously upheld the Supreme Court’s decision in 2007. Nixon appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada who dismissed the request. Arguments built by the shelter in this case have since been used by Aboriginal groups in Canada to maintain their freedom of association.

Even supporting the shelter can get you ousted in some activist circles, as anti-poverty campaigner Yuly Chan found out last year when she was removed from an urban renewal panel at a Vancouver Crossroads conference after retweeting Vancouver Rape Relief and expressing support for working class women.

In May 2018 Trans Rights Activists targeted The Licorice Parlour, a sweet shop in Vancouver who had put up a poster advertising the Vancouver Rape Relief annual community fundraiser. The shop’s social media platforms were flooded with fake 1* reviews accusing the shop and the owner, Mary Jean, of transphobia. Mary Jean took to Facebook to assert her support of the shelter and disclose her own experience of sexual assault. She received many messages of support but the accusations of transphobia and fake reviews continued for some time.

The previous year, in February 2017, the Vancouver Women’s Library drew the attention of Trans Rights Activists, who protested the space and founder Em Laurent due to her history as a volunteer with Vancouver Rape Relief. Protesters ripped a poster off the wall, poured wine on the bookshelves and pulled the fire alarm, resulting in a $500 fine for the volunteers who run the space. One of the protesters’ demands was that Laurent end her involvement in the library due to her allegedly anti-sex work and transphobic views. The protesters have a list of books they want banned and demand a greater selection of books by women of colour, sex workers, incarcerated women, and transwomen. Vancouver Women’s Library has a section on trans literature, and welcomes title recommendations for any of its categories.

During a fundraising walkathon for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter in 2012, Trans Rights Activists distributed pamphlets to participants, including rape survivors, denouncing Vancouver Rape Relief and accusing the organisation of transphobia. They also defaced the park with messages such as "Ask Rape Relief about their trans policy."

It has not escaped the notice of many onlookers that the continual targets of this harassment appear to be women, often lesbians. When organisations that help vulnerable women are targeted then it is the women most in need who lose out. Male violence continues to be the biggest threat to trans people, and feminists seek to end male violence in all its forms. In the midst of these political disagreements it is women, not violent men, who are bearing the brunt of Trans Rights Activists' animosity.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter will refer men and transgender women to appropriate shelters, they will never refuse frontline service to an individual in need.

You can donate to Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter here.

By Sobering Maid

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Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

You can call us at 604.872.8212, or TDD# 604.877.0958 and our receptionist will be happy to direct your call to a collective member who can help you.

By email:

You can email us at info@rapereliefshelter.bc.ca.

Please make sure you include your telephone number and a good time to reach you.

By mail:

Our mailing address is: Please call for Office address

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

c/o P.O. Box 21562

1424 Commercial Drive

Vancouver, B.C.

V5L 5G2


If you are in the England or Wales you can get rape crisis centre information here: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/

If you are in Scotland you can get rape crisis centre information here: https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/find-a-service-near-you/

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