A Vancouver transsexual has filed a human-rights complaint, alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, age, and disability after she was evicted from a downtown social-housing complex. In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Pamela Burge said she was thrown out of the Wellspring, which is at 415 Nelson Street, at the end of June. This came after the society that manages the complex claimed that she owed $1,355 in outstanding rent.
Burge, once a well-known broadcasting executive who went by the name of Tim Burge, has alleged that the real reason she was evicted was that the building administrator, Joanne Graham, did not like her because she is transsexual. Burge, 65, claimed that she did not owe any back rent, and that the society refused to acknowledge receiving her documentation of her income from social assistance and the Canada Pension Plan.
“I could never imagine this happening to me as a middle-class man or even as a regular woman,” she said.
Burge has named Graham, the 127 Society for Housing, and the Diocese of New Westminster as respondents in her complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The Anglican church has supported the society and its name is on a plaque outside the front door of the building, but Burge said that it has absolved itself of any responsibility for her eviction.
Graham sent an e-mail to the Straight saying she reports to the directors of the society, and that she wanted to receive questions in writing. She was told about the nature of Burge’s complaint, and did not call back by deadline.
Burge said that she lived in the building for 13 years and was so distraught by the eviction that she checked into St. Paul’s Hospital. She added that she is living in temporary accommodation in the Downtown Eastside. She listed her disabilities as fibromyalgia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and bouts of depression.
“What rights do you have—never mind if you’re a tranny—if you go to a building managed by a nonprofit?” she asked. “B.C. Housing won’t help you.”
The NDP MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, Jenny Kwan, wrote a letter to Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman on September 1 asking him to ensure that B.C. Housing gives “urgent consideration” to Burge’s application for new housing.
“Ms. Burge is in a tenuous situation, is housed only temporarily and is in imminent danger of being homeless,” Kwan wrote. “Ms. Burge is also a senior citizen, and a person with a disability.”
Burge said that her human-rights complaint covers actions that occurred in 2009 and 2010. She claimed that the society told her that she must clean her deck, which was outside the building and resembled a balcony, three times a year by hand. One of her advocates, transsexual activist Stephanie Castle, told the Straight in an interview that the society’s demand for her to clean the concrete slabs constituted harassment.
“They expected her, with her disabilities, to get down on her bended knees to scrub them by hand when they have a pressure cleaner in the building, which they used for other services,” Castle said.
Burge appealed the eviction to the Residential Tenancy Branch, which administers the Residential Tenancy Act. She said that the arbitrator repeatedly referred to her as “Mr. Burge” in a telephone hearing, which offended her. Another of Burge’s supporters, mental-health advocate Maryann Boyle, told the Straight by phone that she heard the arbitrator make these remarks.
Boyle added that the arbitrator, who upheld the eviction, called her “Mr. Burge” even after he was corrected. Boyle also claimed that his temper was “getting out of hand”.
“Pam never got a chance to really put her point across,” Boyle said.