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On February 26, the City of Vancouver voted not to renew funding for the Vancouver Rape Relief [VRR] shelter — Canada’s oldest sexual assault crisis shelter. The shelter has provided trauma and outreach services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, incest, and sex trafficking since 1973. The funding was related to VRR’s Public Education and Community Outreach program.
The decision comes after an extended campaign by trans rights activists to have the City of Vancouver strip funding from the shelter in 2019, with some calling the rape crisis centre “transphobic.”
Speaking to The Post Millennial, Collective Member Karla Gjini emphasised that Vancouver Rape Relief was intended to be a safe space for women to share their experiences and advocate against male violence against women.
“[Our work is based around] women coming together and talking truthfully about their experiences with male violence to find common ground and understand they are not alone.” Gjini said, “It’s important to have that common ground and shared experience.”
Gjini also refuted the claims that Vancouver Rape Relief callously rejected trans-identified people who sought crisis services. Adrienne Smith, a Vancouver-area lawyer most notable for claiming Jessica Yaniv’s loss at the BCHRT was a “step backwards for trans rights,” claimed to have trans clients who had been turned away from VRR.
“If it were ever the case that a transwoman called us and there were no spaces anywhere — we would have to do something about that. But as far as I know, that has never happened.” Gjini said, noting that the safety of victims was VRR’s highest priority.
“We are always full. All the time. We have women and children stuffed to the brims, and unfortunately we have to turn away a lot of women because we do not have space to accommodate all of the women trying to escape the male violence they have experienced.”
The shelter’s stance to keep its space male-free has resulted in a barrage of hatred from trans rights activists, who have vandalised the rape relief’s building on multiple occasions.
In August of 2019, Vancouver Rape Relief’s storefront was spray painted with the words “KILL TERFS” and “TRANS POWER.” A dead, rotting rodent was nailed to the door.
The loss of funding at the behest of trans rights activists is not the first time the Vancouver Rape Relief shelter has been the target of radicals.
In 1995, a transwoman named Kimberly Nixon sought to work at Vancouver Rape Relief as a councillor, but was denied on the basis of not having the lived experience as a woman. Nixon proceeded to take the shelter to the B.C Human Rights Tribunal, who awarded Nixon $7,500 in “discrimination” damages.
But after the Rape Relief shelter fought back, and the B.C Court of Appeals overturned the BCHRT’s decision, ultimately finding that they had “erred” in awarding Nixon costs. The Court of Appeals, and a subsequent B.C Supreme Court challenge both found that the Vancouver Rape Relief shelter were well within their rights to assemble freely as a women’s only space. The Supreme Court also ordered Nixon to pay the shelter’s legal fees.
Nixon has refused to acknowledge the court-ordered fees since the decision was made in 2009.
On what the future holds now that the shelter relies solely on donations, Karla Gjini is optimistic.
“We are going to continue to work the way that we do. We will find a way to continue offering what we do. We will just have to strategise a little bit.”