Women Only Organizing Under Attack in British Columbia

Tuesday, July 27 2010
The BC Human Rights Tribunal just decided that Powell Place Shelter discriminated against a man who wanted to babysit when they told him that women must decide who comes into the shelter. The tribunal chair references the Nixon suit against my centre, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter in the decision.  The Nixon vs VRR decision was overturned by the BC Supreme court in December 2003.  During the Rape Relief case, we predicted that if women are not allowed the freedom to decide about membership in our groups, men would have more power and encouragement to attack our organizations.  This is exactly the way regressive forces use the law against progressive organizing.


Anyone who is an activist recognizes this old trick of threatening the women from joining the uprising of women by attacking the organizers/advocates. Brent E. Johnston argued that the battered women in the Powell Place 2nd stage shelter discriminated against him when they required him to respect boundaries in their home.  Johnson attacked the organizers who work for Powell Place and who backed the residents to set those boundaries. The state sided with Johnson and he won.


I’m angry that the BC tribunal chair actually chastises the shelter workers for not presenting evidence to justify the wisdom of preventing a man from freely roaming throughout a shelter for battered women and children. Have we been pushed so far backwards that we have lost the last 30 years of consciousness raising and public education efforts? This politics about male violence was widely accepted. Maybe the tribunal chair was simply punishing the shelter organizers for not parading the victims (the battered women and children in the shelter) to tell their individual grim stories as a way to convince her that they are too damaged to deal with men.  I don’t believe there is need for this type of convincing.


Women-only organizing must have more meaning than, “women-only as long as the men will permit”.   We must be a transformative feminist force if we are to succeed in protecting the individual battered woman.  Shelter workers and residents will not be bullied into opening up our shelters to suit the whim of men, no matter how insulted the men claim to be.  As long as the law keeps changing to restrict our legal right to organize as workers in women’s shelters, we will be put in the position of breaking the law every time we use our political common sense.


Here is the link to the BC Human Rights Decision http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/down/decisions_2004/Johnston_v_St_James_Community_Service_Society_and_%20others_2004_BCHR_%205.pdf

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