Saturday • 2011.05.14
President’s Choice Financial Discriminates Against Transgender People
UPDATE — TUESDAY MAY 17, 2011, 4:29PM
I was contacted by phone today at 3:41PM by a very courteous representative of PC Financial. We spoke for about 30 minutes about potential strategies PC can apply to resolve this issue, and I made it clear we need to arrive at a solution which prevents anyone from going through what I did, rather than just quickly and quietly fixing my file and moving on.
It’s going to take me a while to fully document the conversation, but I will endeavour to make another post at around midnight tonight or shortly thereafter explaining what was discussed. Update is posted. See: President’s Choice Responds.
In the mean time, I want to thank all of you who’ve taken the time to read, share, and comment this article. Through the power of social media, we can finally start to fix these societal problems, and reclaim services and equality for those who would otherwise suffer due to lack of societal privelege. My heart goes out to everyone who’s supported this effort so far, and my thanks to all who continue to do so. ~Christin
ORIGINAL ARTICLE FOLLOWS — MAY 14, 2011
On Thursday May 12, 2011, I made the arduous journey by public transit to the nearest President’s Choice Financial Services Customer Service Pavilion, located at the Mavis & Brittania Loblaws location at 5970 Mclaughlin Road in Mississauga, Ontario. My goal was simple: after having formally changed my legal name with the Province of Ontario as a part of my gender transition from male to female, I wanted to update my records at PC Financial to reflect my new name.
Imagine my surprise when, despite having no trouble with any of the other banks I do business with, PC Financial outright refused to change the name on my account from my old male name, to my new, legal, female name – despite me showing clear legally-documented proof.
In hand, I had all of the following identification:
- Legal “Change of Name” certificate, issued to me by the province of Ontario (listing new name and old name)
- Birth Certificate (new name)
- Canadian Passport (old name)
- A Credit Card (new name)
- A Credit Card (old name)
- Various Billing Statements (both old and new names)
I was told that their policy about customers’ name changes is that the customer must present, as a minimum, one government issued photo ID bearing the new name, plus at least one other ID card bearing the new name, plus the legal change of name certificate issued by the province. Talk about overkill!
This is a huge problem for me – I have no driver’s licence (I don’t own a car or drive at all), and to aquire a new passport under my new name would mean missing a day of work to run the errand, plus waiting 20 days processing time (plus postage time) to receive it, not to mention paying an $87 fee. Luckily I am fortunate; I am financially stable and can afford to pay this fee. However, many transgender Canadians (particularly youth) are not so fortunate, so this is a significant barrier issue for transgender customers of PC Financial.
As an alternative, if I were to aquire a driver’s license (of which I have no need) under my new name, it would require me to first memorize the Ontario Driver’s handbook to pass a knowledge test, plus pay a fee of $125. There is also a vision test requirement – good thing I’m not blind or otherwise disabled (yet another potential barrier issue for those less fortunate than me).
It occurred to me that I could perhaps pay $30 and get an LCBO-issued “BYID” card, a photographic ID card issued by the Government-run Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The BYID card is intended to be used as a proof-of-age ID card to be used for the purchase of beverage alcohol in Ontario. But, I would apparently be doing so at my own risk, because when I asked a PC Financial Phone rep the question “would this qualify as government-issued photo ID,” I was told they have no official answer to that question, so it “would be up to the individual customer service person in the Pavilion if they wanted to accept that or not.”
Regardless, the standard in Canada for when one is required to present identification following a name change is that old ID should be acceptable, provided it is accompanied by the Change of Name certificate (which itself, by the way, costs $137). That is the entire purpose of having a government-issued Change of Name certificate: it serves as government-certified proof that I’ve changed my legal name. Why is this not good enough for PC Financial?
PC Financial is the only personal banking institution in Canada with such a restrictive and discriminatory policy. Here is a breakdown of the competition, from Best to Worst:
- ScotiaBank says they will gladly accept the change of name certificate, along with old ID. In fact, ScotiaBank does not even require photo ID to open an account, potentially a huge benefit to trans people who don’t have new ID yet.
- TD Canada Trust’s name change policy is also easy: just bring the name change certificate to a branch, no problemo.
- Royal Bank doesn’t have it posted online, but by e-mail they told me that old ID is fine provided I bring the Ontario Change of Name certificate.
- BMO also doesn’t have it posted. Their e-mail response stated that “normally” they require at least one photo ID with the new name, but that with Ontario Change of Name certificate in hand, I should contact my branch to “see” because “some branches will agree” to make the change without seeing new photo ID.
- CIBC’s policy is almost as bad as PC Financial. Although they do accept the name change certificate, they also definitely require that you produce at least one photo ID which carries the new name. (PC Financial Services is a division of CIBC)
- Although not a bank, Social Insurance Canada only requires the Change of Name certificate in conjunction with old ID, to order a new SIN card.
It’s important to understand why President’s Choice Financial’s policy is discriminatory. PC Financial does not directly discriminate against trans people (as far as I know). In other words, it is not a situation of “we don’t take kindly to your type around here;” indeed, their restrictive name-change policy is applied equally to all customers. The problem here is that, while neutral on its face, this policy has a disproportionate negative impact on transgender people.
The end result of this policy is that one is forced to continue maintaining accounts, and receiving mail, under the previous name. For someone who has changed their name for purely aesthetic reasons (to a preferred spelling), or for reasons of convenience (to shorten it, to localize it, or to add on the surname of a second parent), the effects of this policy might at worst be considered a nuisance. To a transgender person on the other hand, a name change represents something much more fundamental, and arguably much more important.
When trans persons change their legal names, they are not making a change for convenience, or aesthetics. They are making a fundamental, corrective change out of utter necessity. In our society, a man should not have to register for a Gym membership and pay with a card that says “Josephine,” if he does not want to. A woman should not have to go bra shopping and pay with a card that says “Peter” on it, if she does not want to. This is a part of our fundamental right to freedom of gender identity and expression, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and (in Ontario), by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Such barriers as those imposed by PC Financial are insulting and degrading to the hard work of trans people who have spent cash, time, blood, sweat and tears redefining their entire lives to match their true internal self-identities.
In fact, some unlucky transgender persons, whose medical practitioners have chosen to forcibly subject them to the much maligned Harry Benjamin Standards of Care process, are even required to change their names legally before they are allowed to access proper medical treatment. Some trans persons can even find themselves in the position of having to explain to their medical gatekeepers why their interac card still says “John” on it, and could potentially have it used against them as evidence they are not serious about transitioning.
It is not a secret that trans people face discrimination at every turn. Here are some further examples of how PC Financial is putting trans people at risk of harm with their discriminatory policy:
- This policy would automatically out any trans person seeking new employment to their potential employer, if that employer requires banking information for payroll purposes.
- Trans people receiving statements in their old name potentially outs them to their landlords or neighbours who may see the mail. Trans people could lose their homes over this, or face harassment (or worse: attacks) in their neighborhoods. Perhaps this is of less concern to PC Financial however, given that individuals who rent are much less likely to be Mortgage customers.
- Let’s not forget that cheques can only be printed bearing the legal name on the account. If a trans customer of PC Financial needs to write a cheque for any reason, they are automatically outed to the payee.
- For students, this policy outs their trans status to university and college tuition offices, to their student housing office, to financial assistance organizations, and to any potential source of scholarships. This may cost trans students significant academic opportunities.
- Having accounts in multiple names complicates credit checks and credit applications, so this policy will ultimately block trans people from getting loans, credit cards, financing large purchases, etc. even if the organizations from which they are trying to obtain credit are not themselves discriminatory against trans people.
Even cisgender (non-transgender) women are potentially placed at risk by this policy: fleeing an abusive ex-husband, the last thing you’d want is to have your money (or mortgage) held hostage by a financial institution which insists on calling you by your ex-husband’s name, sending mail bearing his name to your home, potentially creating a trail which he can follow right to your door. A cursory internet search reveals postings of several aggravated customers, newly married or divorced women who have been disadvantaged by this policy.
When I first ran up against this problem, my first thought was to simply cancel my accounts and take my business elsewhere. In fact, many people might respond to this situation by suggesting trans people should simply change banks. Unfortunately, that’s much easier said than done. With PC Financial, I have Chequing and Savings accounts, a host of automatic bill payments, my payroll and health plan deposits, a line of credit, a Mortgage, an RSP, and a credit card. To cancel all of one’s business with a financial provider entails a lot of leg work, which I estimate in my case may take several months to fully achieve. Any trans persons who run up against this policy, and who urgently need financial service under their new name in the short term, are totally screwed by PC Financial.
Even the provincial government recognizes the special risk to trans people of having their old names publicized. Part of the process of changing your name in Ontario requires that an announcement of your name change must be published in the Ontario Gazette: this requirement is waived for all transgender applicants, owing to the sensitivity of the situation. The only other circumstance under which this requirement is waived is if the applicant can show that publication would lead to a risk of significant harm.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission defines two types of discrimination: direct, and indirect (or “systemic” or “adverse-effect”). As set forth in Section 15(2) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and solidified in two precedent-setting legal cases, employers and service providers have a duty to accommodate individuals who are discriminated against by any policy or practice.
In a nutshell that means if any company has a policy which has a disproportionately negative impact on you as a member of a group such as race, gender identity, religion, or any other of the prohibited grounds of discrimination in Canada, it is equally unacceptable by law as if they were to put up a sign banning that group specifically.
By continuing to enforce this restrictive name change policy against Transgender persons, after it has been brought to their attention, PC Financial is guilty of a human rights violation. President’s Choice Financial therefore has a moral and legal duty to revise this policy immediately, and to issue a public apology for the harm done to their Transgender customers.
I would invite President’s Choice Financial to respond to the points above by presenting a revised name change policy which takes into account the needs of the Transgender community (and of non-transgender women who’ve recently married or divorced). Failing that, this issue should be followed up as a human rights complaint filed with the Ontario Human Rights commission.
Update: Please see the followup post: President’s Choice Responds