Canada’s war on women

A women-only rape-relief centre in Vancouver has had its funding pulled for ‘excluding’ trans people.

Rozali Telbis

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The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRRWS) cares for, on average, 1,200 women each year. It offers immediate response and services, including transition housing and a 24-hour crisis line, for women fleeing male violence. Established in 1973, it is the oldest women’s rape-crisis centre in Canada.

But a year ago Vancouver city council plunged the centre’s future into doubt. It approved VRRWS’s annual grant for 2019/20, but also stated that it would cease funding the following year. And so, last month, it came to pass. The city council voted finally to end the centre’s funding. And it did so on the grounds that, by exclusively serving women, the centre was discriminating against men who identify as women.

Driving this defunding campaign was local trans activist Morgane Oger. Oger, a politically active trans woman, spent the better half of the year taunting and shaming the shelter for being ‘transphobic’, simply because it did not serve trans women or gender-variant people – in other words, men.

When the city council pulled the plug on the VRRWS, Oger took to Twitter to gloat, likening the centre to a white-supremacist organisation. Oger also wrote a scathing blog post implying a connection between the rape-crisis centre and various right-wing fringe groups, from the Soldiers of Odin (a far-right, anti-immigrant group) to the Peoples Party of Canada (a populist, far-right political party). This type of behaviour ought to be of no surprise to anyone familiar with trans activists’ bullying tactics.

It is one thing to be ignorant of the critical need for the type of services provided by a women’s refuge. But it is something else entirely to go out of your way to execute a defunding campaign against a women’s refuge. It reeks of outright misogyny. Thousands of vulnerable women rely on the VRRWS’s services to get the critical support they need. And now it is in danger of going under, merely because, as a women’s refuge, it wanted to restrict its services to women.

And why wouldn’t it? To expect women who have been abused and raped at the hands of men to then accommodate a man in a shelter is absurd – even if said man self-identifies as a woman.

Indeed, trans women have no idea what women need because, quite simply, they are not women. To grow up and be socialised as a woman starts before birth. Being a woman is to have experienced a lifetime of being treated, and in some cases oppressed and subjugated, as a woman. Not that any such concerns bother the City of Vancouver.

In its letter justifying the decision, the council stated that: ‘It is [our] view that [VRRWS]’s position does not demonstrate accommodation, welcomeness and openness to people of all gender identities required by the eligibility criteria, because it clearly excludes trans, gender-variant and two-spirit people from provision of at least some of its core services.’

This charge of exclusivity levelled at the VRRWS raises some important issues.

First, in order for a certain group of marginalised people to be effectively served, other groups must be excluded. A women’s shelter would no longer serve its purpose if it started allowing men to have access to its services. VRRWS is often the last lifeline for some women, especially as it is the only women-only rape crisis centre and transition house in the province of British Columbia.

And second, it seems Vancouver’s councilors see justice and exclusivity as incompatible. In this, they are marching in lockstep with the diversity industry – or as proponents call it, diversity and inclusion (D&I). For D&I advocates, ‘inclusivity’ is always the goal, and exclusivity always the enemy. Yet a women’s refuge is necessarily exclusive. It necessarily discriminates. For it is only by discriminating against other sections of society that it can cater to the needs of a particular marginalised and vulnerable social group.

What makes the defunding of VRRWS all the more bewildering is that the city council is all too happy to serve other marginalised groups exclusively. So, just days after it announced that the VRRWS was to be defunded, the council announced it had purchased a $3.8million building to convert into social housing for people who identify as trans or two-spirit.

While I’m not opposed to a trans-only space, I am opposed to blatant hypocrisy and misogyny, especially from misinformed decision makers. The main reason why the city council defunded the rape-relief shelter was on the basis of exclusivity, yet this social-housing initiative will exclusively serve trans and two-spirit people.

It is difficult to ignore the misogyny at work here. To defund one critical service and then prop up another days later shows that modern sex-based oppression is alive and kicking. And so, under the banner of anti-discrimination, women have been pushed to the sidelines, yet again.

The council could have funded the women’s shelter and the new social housing. That way, both marginalised groups would receive the services they need. Instead, the decision to defund one on the basis of being exclusionary, while propping up another on the basis of being, well, exclusionary, makes no logical sense.

Vancouver’s city councillors, like many other decision makers, have succumbed to the dangers of identity politics. They have traded off women’s rights against the rights of others deemed more oppressed and victimised. And, in doing so, they have allowed misogyny to prevail once again.

Rozali Telbis is a writer based in Vancouver.

Picture by: Getty Images.

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