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Trans woman hopes funding cut will send message to Vancouver rape crisis group

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  • VANCOUVER — A transgender woman whose case against Canada’s oldest rape crisis centre was dismissed by the courts says she hopes the City of Vancouver’s decision to refuse the shelter funding will help change policies.

    Kimberly Nixon, 61, filed a human rights complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter in 1995 after she was refused training to work as a volunteer peer counsellor on the basis she did not share the life experience of someone born female.

    “The organization is not bad,” said Nixon. “It just means that attitudes have to change.”

    Nixon’s complaint was upheld by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal with a $7,500 reward from Rape Relief, but the B.C. Supreme Court found discrimination had not occurred.

    The B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed Nixon’s appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed her request to appeal that decision in 2007.

    The City of Vancouver announced last week that, starting next year, it will no longer provide Rape Relief with a nearly $34,000 annual grant, saying the charitable group does not meet its trans equality and inclusion criteria, adopted in 2016.

    “While (Vancouver Rape Relief Society) services have been and are very important, staff identified concerns about the organization’s position on trans women in relation to the full intent of grant criteria,” the city said in a statement.

    Hilla Kerner, spokeswoman for Rape Relief, said women who are born female and socialized to submit to male domination want comfort and support from women who share the same life experience and understand rape, forced pregnancy and violence in that context.

    “More often than not, being born female still means we are born as an oppressed class. We haven’t achieved liberation for women yet,” she said.

    Rape Relief does not turn transgender women away and often connects them to other services, Kerner said.

    She said the group is no different from other organizations that serve people with specific needs, including those who are Indigenous, disabled or migrants.

    Morgane Oger, who chairs the Trans Alliance Society, said she has been advocating since 2013 for Rape Relief’s municipal funding to be stopped.

    “Vancouver Rape Relief and other organizations that are publicly funded are responsible for keeping up the highest standard of inclusion,” Oger said, adding the group helps only a subset of women.

    Adrienne Smith, a human rights lawyer in Vancouver, said all of Smith’s clients are transgender and some of them have said they have been turned away from Rape Relief after a sexual assault.

    “Rape Relief takes the position that transgender women are men in dresses and that there’s something inauthentic about them,” Smith said. “Their followers repeat this messaging and it’s fundamentally hurtful to my clients and to trans and non-binary people.”

    Smith said Rape Relief has stuck to the same message even as society has changed.

    Trans women are sexually assaulted at four times the rate of non-trans women, often by other women, Smith said.

    “The Nixon case was wrongly decided and I think it would be decided very differently if it were argued today because decision makers have a much more clear understanding that transgender women are women,” Smith said.

    British Columbia provides about $600,000 in annual funding to Rape Relief, which has a budget of about $1.1 million and opened its doors in 1973.

    Nixon said provincial funding should also be reconsidered.

    “If the province continues to fund them they are basically enabling their treatment of trans women, or trans people in general,” said Nixon, who recently spoke at an International Women’s Day event at Ryerson University in Toronto.

    “I hope the society’s reached a point where they can recognize what is right and what is wrong. So this is just another opportunity for them to make the necessary change.”

    — Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

     

    Camille Bains, The Canadian Press




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    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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