(VANCOUVER) On Wednesday, December 7, 2005, the B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter has the right to determine their own membership. The decision is the result of a ten-year legal battle that started when Kimberly Nixon, a male-to-female transsexual, filed a complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. Nixon sued Rape Relief, a woman-only organization that provides a shelter for battered women and a 24-hour rape crisis line, for the right to volunteer, despite the fact that Nixon did not have the life experience as a woman to qualify her as a peer counselor.
“The decision is an important victory for equality seeking groups in British Columbia” says Suzanne Jay spokesperson for Vancouver Rape Relief. “We believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support. Now their right is strengthened as is our right to provide that support. ” Vancouver Rape Relief shelters over 100 women each year along with 70-80 of the battered women’s children. Each year the 24-hour rape crisis line receives new calls from 1,300-1,400 women dealing with rape, sexual assault, incest, battering and sexual harassment.
“The Court of Appeal relied upon the findings of the Tribunal that Vancouver Rape Relief acted in good faith, and the fact that their volunteer counselors had to be women born and raised as women was rational, to find that Vancouver Rape Relief has the right to exist as an organization,” explains Professor Christine Boyle of the UBC School of Law. Professor Boyle represented Vancouver Rape Relief legally. “Thus, at every level, Vancouver Rape Relief’s understanding of itself as an organization has been acknowledged.
The B.C. Court of Appeal held unanimously that Vancouver Rape Relief has the right to prefer to train women who have never been treated as anything but female. Chief Justice Finch said: “The respondent Society was entitled to give preference to women who are not post-operative transsexuals, because there is a rational connection between the preference and the respondent’s work or purpose.”