Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter Expresses Serious Concern About Human Rights Tribunal Decision

Friday, January 18, 2002

Vancouver - In the midst of the Provincial government’s drastic cuts to services and programs the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has released its decision in the case of Nixon vs Vancouver Rape Relief Society, January 18, 2002.

In that decision, Tribunal Member Heather McNaughton has ordered Vancouver Rape Relief to pay $7,500, the highest award ever for injury to feelings so far in British Columbia, to Kimberly Nixon, a post operative male-to-female transsexual. It was held that Vancouver Rape Relief was in breach of the Human Rights Code in refusing to allow a person without the life experience of being treated as a woman to train as a volunteer peer counsellor of a women-only rape crisis centre and shelter for battered women.

The Tribunal however also recognized that Vancouver Rape Relief acted in good faith, meant no harm and recognized that Rape Relief workers believed they were respectful towards Ms Nixon. The Tribunal Chair noted that Ms. Nixon was “unable to understand the challenge to her participation in the training in any but a personal way and as a challenge to her status as a woman.” As well, the Tribunal recognized that it is harmful to create a situation that would potentially silence a rape victim. For a summary of the Human Rights Tribunal decision please see the attached Summary of Decision. 

Professor Christine Boyle of the Faculty of Law of the University of British Columbia , who was co-counsel for Vancouver Rape Relief, comments: “ I’m disappointed that the BC Human Rights Tribunal did not take the same approach as the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in Kavanaugh and the Canadian Rights Commission (2001). In that case it was recognized that the difficulties female inmates in correctional facilities have in dealing with men are based in part on painful life experience. So should the significance of life experience for raped and battered women be acknowledged by law.” 

Despite the support of a broad based community, the 6 year long defense has strained the volunteer organization. Suzanne Jay a collective member of Rape Relief says “We were fortunate that people stepped forward to offer us some financial support that was directly about the case. Otherwise, I can’t see how we could have continued our service delivery work and make a defense.” 

However, there are no regrets about defending the case, “To Vancouver Rape Relief this is a test case in which we are defending the human right to women-only space. This case is about what Rape Relief sees as fundamental to our work - the life experience of being treated as a woman. We respect the human rights of everyone, irrespective of gender. But we don’t exist to meet the needs of volunteers. We need volunteers with the life experience of being treated as women to offer help to women who need shelter from violence.” states Lee Lakeman a collective member of Vancouver Rape Relief. 

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is a non-profit charitable organization devoted to fighting male violence against women. Rape Relief provides rape crisis services to women and shelter services to women and their children as they escape violent male partners. The structure and methods of Rape Relief’s work combines the promotion of women's equality with men with the daily practical work of ending rape and battering. Judy Rebick, a prominent Canadian feminist, writer, broadcaster and former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women describes Vancouver Rape Relief as a “model feminist service that has played a major national role in fighting violence against women.” 

Lawyers for the respondent are Gwendoline C. Allison, Bull Housser & Tupper and Professor Christine Boyle, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia. 

For further information:

Suzanne Jay, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

Phone: (604) 876-0827, (604) 872-8212

Fax: (604) 876-8450

E-mail: [email protected]