Discontinuation of grant to Vancouver Rape Relief shows trans activism is an attack on women

On Thursday, Vancouver city councilors voted to cut funding to Canada’s longest standing rape crisis centre and transition house. Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRRWS) has been receiving funding from the city for more than 10 years, and while VRRWS will receive these funds this year, the decision was made that the grant will not be renewed next year unless the organization’s position to maintain women-only space changes. This particular grant went towards public education and outreach, and was for approximately $30,000.

The efforts to cut these funds were led by local trans activists; notably, BC NDP Vice President, Morgane Oger, who has been the subject of numerous complaints from citizens, on account of accusations of defamation and harassment of feminists online.

At a city council meeting on Wednesday, Hilla Kerner, a member of the VRRWS collective, pointed out that no one informed the organization that this grant would be discussed and potentially discontinued as a result of that discussion, meaning that, had VRRWS not been tipped off privately, they would have had no support at the meeting nor any opportunity to defend themselves. “Nobody bothered to invite us to explain our position, practices, politics, and services,” Kerner said.

“We found out about this hearing and the intent to undermine us at midnight [the night before the meeting], from an ally who was watching social media. There was a lot of use of the words ‘fairness’ and ‘process’ today. This did not apply to us — your oldest rape crisis centre. We serve 1200 women a year. We house 100 women and their children. We have an international reputation. We just submitted to the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women… Three months ago we argued to the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Cindy Gladue. And none of you bothered to tell us: ‘Come and defend yourselves.”

It appears Oger intended to stage a coup, organizing trans activists to attend the meeting and speak against VRRWS, in order to ensure a one-sided “debate.” And the city was ready to let this happen, without protest.

During the hearing, Oger (11:46:00) argued that VRRWS should be disqualified from receiving public funds, accusing the organization of “having a history of discrimination against transgender women on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression.” This statement is of course untrue. Rather, VRRWS has a policy of offering services to those born female, and as well won the right to determine their own membership in 2007, meaning that it is within their rights to maintain a women-only policy with regard to collective members and shelter workers.

While Oger claimed VRRWS was breaking Canadian law in maintaining these policies, Kerner pointed out, during her remarks to city council, that this was untrue.

“Not only are we not in contradiction with federal law, and not in contradiction with the provincial law, but, in [2003], the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that we are not violating the human rights code. There is a similar exception to the federal Human Rights Act. Because we are an oppressed group who fight for equality, we have the right to decide our membership and who we serve. We are not in contradiction of any law and it is slander to say differently.”

The notion that the organization would discriminate against any woman is false. Kerner pointed out that many of the women VRRWS houses are poor, Indigenous, and prostituted. What Oger means, in accusing VRRWS of “discrimination,” is that because VRRWS does not offer services to men, nor do they allow males into their counselor training program, they should be defunded.

Oger complained that VRRWS offered services specifically to women escaping male violence, and added that “they are the last rape relief centre in British Columbia (that I know of) that adheres to this philosophy.” In other words, there is only one women’s rape crisis centre and transition house in this province (truly, in Canada), that maintains services and membership for women only, but this is too much even for Oger to accept. Every other shelter must now accept males who identify as women, without any stipulations with regard to that declared identity, but Oger would prefer to destroy the single organization that believes women deserve a safe space to escape and heal from male violence, away from men, and who operate based on explicitly feminist principles. One wonders why trans activists like Oger are not putting their energy into creating services specifically for trans-identified people — something VRRWS has explicitly said they would support.

In a statement from VRRWS, the organization reinterates (as they have made clear many times):

“We have no doubt that people whose behaviour is not consistent with the patriarchal socially imposed definition of manhood or womanhood, including transgender people, suffer discrimination and violence. Transgender people deserve and must live in safety and have the equal rights and opportunities that are promised to us all. When it comes to our services, we have a collective commitment to see to the safety anyone who calls our crisis line, including transgender people.”

On Wednesday night, Kerner pointed out that this particular grant goes towards public education, which VRRWS offers for free, to everyone, regardless of sex, class, race, ability, or gender identity. The organization provides childcare in order to enable parents of young children to attend their events.

Kerner also pointed out that many of those who receive city grants work for and with particular groups of people. “And rightfully so,” she said. “Migrants, refugees, Jewish families, Chinese people, Native youth…” This is because, Kerner argued, when people are oppressed, they need particular services.

Oger suggested to Mayor Kennedy Stewart (who publicly admonished women who speak out in against gender identity ideology and legislation out of concern that women’s spaces, services, and sex-based rights will be destroyed, calling these women “despicable”) that a “solution” would be to include “conditions” in contracts “requir[ing] Rape Relief to include transgender and non-binary persons in the decision-making process — either regarding this specific program that they’re trying to participate in or in the general delivery of the program — if they want to be involved with tax-payer funding.”

To be clear, Oger is not really talking about the inclusion of certain individuals, but the inclusion of those who hold certain beliefs. VRRWS already does include “non-binary” persons in their decision-making processes, as everyone is “non-binary” (that is to say, no one fits perfectly within the gender roles and stereotypes laid out for us, under patriarchy), but particularly feminists and lesbians do not fit the “gender binary.” In other words, Oger wants to force women to abandon women-centered politics, services, and organizing, and instead forcefully impose trans activist ideology on them, and deny women their right to autonomy, independent thought, and feminist organizing.

The notion that activists and/or politicians should have the right to force their own personal religious or ideological beliefs on the public and on service providers should frighten us all. Undoubtedly, the next thing to follow will be criminal sanctions against those who challenge or refuse to comply with Oger’s personal beliefs.

After expressing frustration that VRRWS has not cowed to the bullying of trans activists, offering WAVAW and BWSS as examples of other organizations that have caved, Oger told Stewart that “gradual change over three to five years, not 10” would be acceptable, and smirked, adding there would need to be “consequence for non-compliance.” Specifically, Oger said that VRRWS “should pay” for declining to offer services to males, and not allowing men to work in the shelter as counselors. “There should be a clause in every single [city] grant that misbehaviour from the grant would cause not only the loss of the grant, but the exclusion from programs,” Oger added. An odd thing to hear from someone claiming to advocate for “inclusion” and against “discrimination.”

As Kerner predicted, after she spoke, a number of trans activists (sadly, several young women, who opted to advocate against their own interests, and in favour of trans-identified males instead) made untrue statements about the policies and practices of VRRWS, including that they do not serve prostituted women, which the organization was not given an opportunity to correct or refute.

The organization will indeed survive this overt attack on women and feminist organizing, but it should be made absolutely clear to the City of Vancouver that what they have done is wrong, and in fact goes against a Supreme Court Ruling. VRRWS confirmed that it will not be changing its policies or practices, despite this “bullying.”

Those who celebrated and supported this decision should be ashamed, and will be shown to have landed on the wrong side of history. Going after one of the few services and spaces for battered women is shameful, beyond a doubt. These efforts and this decision is an explicit attempt to erase women as a distinct class of people — something that negates our sex-based rights.

A screen shot of the amendment proposed by city council, with the word ‘women’ crossed out, to be replaced by ‘persons’. March 13, 2019

In a statement, VRRWS says:

“Being girls and women in this world often impacts both how we look and how we act in private and in public; what we are allowed to do, encouraged to do and rewarded for; and also what we are discouraged from doing, prohibited to do or punished for.

And from that place, in a woman-only space, with other women, who have the shared experience of being born without a choice to the oppressed class of women we come together to organize and strategize our resistance and our fight for women’s liberation.”

Since the decision, VRRWS has received an outpouring of support from around the world.

You can donate in support of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter here.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.