Sunday • 2012.02.12
If No Trans Person Has Been Stopped at the Gate, Why is This Such a Big Deal? Here’s Why
Since the Trans Flight Ban story broke, the question has been asked repeatedly. “Has anyone actually been stopped?”
Transport Canada’s response to this question hasn’t wavered. Spokespeople have echoed Minister Lebel’s earlier statements in the House, which were later repeated on February 7th by MP Pierre Polievre in the Tansport Committee Meeting:
Transport Canada is not aware of any case of a transgender or transsexual individual in posession of a medical document who has not been permitted to board an airplane since the publication of the regulation in 2010.
Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that medical certificates have nothing to do with the regulation in question, not to mention that even if they did, most trans and genderqueer people don’t have access to such medical certificates. In fact, let’s take Transport Canada completely at their word—that they are not aware of any cases of trans persons yet being stopped by this regulation. So then… Why should we care about this?
1) Because it could be used against any trans-identified or otherwise gender nonconforming person, any time, anywhere.
Any airline gate attendant who decides they don’t like a gender-variant passenger they come across will now have a built-in justification for causing that passenger a problem, if they want to. Smaller airlines, rural airports, and this regulation are a recipe for disaster.
Furthermore, airline gate attendants are personally liable to a fine of $5,000 for failing to enforce any part of section 5.2(1), for each occurrence. The airline corporation would face a fine of $25,000. Sooner or later, some airline is going to issue a memo to their employees, or do some kind of training, regarding “the importance of actually following all ID Screening Regulations.” Employees who realistically may never have even seen all the new regs before could suddenly become more familiar with them, and start looking more closely at passports for opportunities to enforce the screening regs—including 5.2(1)(c).
After all, it’s not like the airlines are going to issue a memo calling for employees to enforce all ID regs “except” 5.2(1)(c).
2) Because some day there could be another 9/11.
Sure, right now, gate attendants just smile and wave us through. They don’t really care about every last letter of the ID screening regulations.
But what happens if and when, heaven forbid, we suffer another 9/11-style terror event involving an aircraft? Suddenly, that quiet, nervous looking lady passenger with the pronounced jawline and the suspicious ‘M’ on her passport becomes a potential terror suspect to hyper-vigilant airline personnel—after all, that’s what the regs tell them to look for, and the regs are there to keep us safe from terrorists.
3) Because it is discriminatory on its face.
5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if …
(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;
We cannot allow laws and regs that judge people based on how they “appear to be” gendered. The only possible impact of such differentiations would be discrimination against gender-variant people (and possibly against women too).
Once a person’s identity has been verified, ie. their presented name and physical appearance conform to the name and the photo on their ID, there is no need to make a judgement on their gender presentation. Nor is there any conceivable security benefit gained by requiring people to express their gender one way or the other on an airplane.
This regulation is a strong affront to trans rights (unintentional though it may have been). On paper it amounts to, yes, a “complete ban” from flight for gender-variant people. It’s on our books, and it shouldn’t be. To me, that alone is reason enough to fight it.
4) Because fighting it sends the message that ignorance and intolerance are not okay.
Since this story broke, trans issues have been cast into the national media spotlight. We’ve got a large number of the general public thinking and talking, quite possibly for the first time, about issues such as the problems of access to proper ID, and about discrimination against trans people in general. In a new poll published by CBC, more than 92% of people, an overwhelming majority, have voted that the rights of trans people should be protected from discrimination.
Let’s maintain the momentum. The Canadian people are on our side. We’ve got C-279 before the federal Parliament to enshrine protections based on “gender identity” and “gender expression” into the Human Rights Act, and a similar provincial bill about to be introduced in Ontario (MPP Cheri DiNovo is planning to re-introduce Toby’s Act on February 21). Now is the time to be vocal about our concerns. Discriminatory regulations like this one must be prime targets for liberty-minded Canadians.
Because there are no confirmed reports yet of trans people stopped by this reg, some have suggested this is no big deal. Blogger Savannah Garmon wrote a post in which she specifically calls my original article a “dramatic over-statement about the issue.” Blogger Jillian Page, who writes for Montreal Gazette, has gone as far as to call the regulation a “non-issue,” lamenting that “damage is done” when “erroneous information goes viral on the Internet.” She opines that it’s “sad” that “some people will continue believing that Canada has an airline transportation policy that directly discriminates against trans people.” But, Ms Page overlooks the fact that Canada does have such a policy; it’s just not being enforced—Yet.
In my opinion, the trans community and allies have every reason to be alarmed right now—if not when they go to the airport, than with their elected leaders in government.
Of course, just because the Ministry at their highest level is not aware of any incident doesn’t mean it’s never happened. It is unclear what process, if any, is in place at Transport Canada that would allow for incidents with airline personnel at the gate level to be reported all the way up to MPs and the Minister himself.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter if it’s being enforced or not, and it doesn’t matter if the discrimination was intentional, or simply an oversight on the part of Transport Canada. It’s still technically a ban. And we can’t afford to stop worrying about it until it is completely repealed, once and for all.
[if you or anyone you know has encountered trouble at the gate due to these regs, please contact me immediately.]