Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Trans Flight Ban is Heavily Debated by Transport Committee; MPs to Vote on Motion to Repeal

Yesterday morning, Parliament of Canada’s Transport Committee sat for a meeting.

At 10:30AM, NDP MP Olivia Chow made a motion regarding everyone’s favourite Identity Screening regulation. From the meeting minutes:

Olivia Chow moved, — That the Government repeals Section 5.2(1)c) of the Identity Screening Regulations under the Aeronautics Act which were introduced in August 2011 and which states that “An air carrier shall not transport a passenger: (…) c) if the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;” as this is a severe discrimination against transgender and transsexual Canadians and a violation of their fundamental right, the freedom of movement, and that this motion be reported back to the House.

Debate arose thereon.

“Debate” proceeded for 15 minutes, until the meeting “adjourned to the call of the Chair,” so that committee members could attend to their regular duties in the House of Commons. So, we didn’t get a decision yet — but the Committee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday (February 9th).

Eventually, the committee will take a vote on the issue. So far, out of 10 voting members (the Chair, Conservative MP Merv Tweed, does not get to vote, except to break a tie), 3 spoke in favour of the motion, and 1 against. Time ran out before the remaining 6 voting members could offer a statement.

If we expect the Transport Committee to vote directly along party lines, the results are not promising; the Committee consists of 3 NDP, 1 Liberal, and 6 Conservatives. We need two of the conservative members to vote in favour of the motion or the motion will fail.

At the time of this writing, the full transcript is not yet available. However, the details gleaned from the audio recording are a little more juicy than the minutes. First, Olivia Chow tells us just what she thinks of these air regulations (transcribed):

Mr. Chair, when we fly, every week, some of us, and… all what we need to do is have a driver’s license, or an OHIP card, that shows who we are. And as long as my face looks identical, or close to, the photo that is in front of… in the driver’s license, whether I’m male/female really does not make much of a difference, because I look like the person that is in the photo.

So whether I’m wearing lipsticks or [no] lipsticks… sometimes I wear glasses… other times I don’t… I have short hair, long hair, I think as long as the identity… as long as I look like that person that in the photo… what my gender is is secondary. It doesn’t compromise security.

She then talked about using a NEXUS card to travel to the United States, pointing out that US Customs does not perform a check of gender designation (only photo and, according to Ms. Chow, retinal scan). She concludes her statement thus:

I think this part (of the regulation) that was introduced in August of 2011, this section, is unnecessary, it’s backwards, and it’s discriminatory. That’s why I have a motion in front of you, Mr. Chair.

Next up was Committee Vice-Chair and Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who made his remarks in French (transcribed from the translated audio feed):

Thank you Mr. Chair. The Liberal Party of Canada supports this motion. It is clearly discriminatory, and it goes against the freedom of movement for transgender and transsexual Canadians. My colleague Trudeau has already asked such questions in the House.

And I can tell you that in the social media realm, I had the opportunity to see that it is clearly a problem. A Canadian is a Canadian—It is not a matter of safety, security, it has to do with fundamental rights. So I would ask all of my colleagues to support the motion, and I would like to get a recorded vote.

Next up was NDP MP Randall Garrison, who is not a member of the committee (and thus, gets no vote), but spoke as a guest (transcribed):

(…)And so this matter came forward, I raised the question in the House as well as my colleague Dany Morin, we were contacted by members of the transgender community who were very concerned… Some of whom are afraid to make travel plans for fear of being denied boarding by this regulation.

It’s quite clear that other countries, in particular Australia, manage air security just fine without such a provision. In fact their passports, which is the main piece of ID that most people use in Australia, have Male, Female, and Indeterminate category on their passports — so people can have a neither male nor female designation. It does not in any way affect the security of air travel internationally, or in Australia.

So I know that some have argued that the international regulations require this – there is no such requirement. The requirement is simply that we identify people, and I think my colleague Ms Chow has identified the basic issue, and that is facial recognition.

So for transgender people, it is very difficult to get a change in your identity documents in terms of the gender. Some people choose not to have surgery, and to live their lives in the gender they feel that they were born in, without any physical alterations. Therefore, under the current identity documents, they cannot get changes, and so therefore they would never be able to do so.

Some have talked about the ability to get a letter from a doctor as an exception, but in the case of a non-operative transgender person, there is no doctor who would provide any kind of letter. Plus most doctors charge about $100 or more for letters like that. And of course, one of the largest problems that transgender Canadians have is with employment, and most transgender people in Canada live very close to if not below the poverty line. So, they sometimes need to travel for family reasons, but it’s not something they do very often, and so it’s very difficult for them both to get letters, to pay for letters, and to make these kinds of arrangements.

In addition to that, there is the issue of privacy, which many transgender people feel quite strongly about. In that other people are not questioned, would not be questioned, would not be challenged on gender grounds, and therefore it exposes them to the prejudice which is very, very prevalent in our society against transgender people. And so by having this regulation in place, their worry is that at security screening points at the gates, there may be people who are not familiar with the issues that transgender people face, and that it might become quite difficult for them.

So for all those reasons, we believe that this regulation is both unnecessary and discriminatory. We have a right to mobility in Canada which is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and transgender people are as entitled to those protections as any other Canadian. So I would encourage this committee to pass this resolution and send it back to the House, so that we can correct what I see as simply an error; an excessive regulation which is not really needed for air safety, and causes a violation of rights and discrimination against transgender people.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was next (transcribed):

(…) To comply with the identity screening regulations, airlines in Canada must have procedures allowing them to identify all passengers by using their official identification, issued by a recognized government authority. This approach applies to all passengers, regardless of their culture, religion, or sexual orientation. (…)

Note that Mr. Poilievre was reciting almost verbatim the same response which Minister of Transport Denis Lebel had been giving in Question Period last week in the House of Commons. Tellingly, Mr. Poilievre seems to share his colleague’s tendency to conflate gender identity with sexual orientation in his statement.

He then goes on, at some length, to describe the history of the updated regulations, re-stating their primary purpose as to introduce a requirement for airline personnel to confirm passengers’ identities by checking their appearances against their passports immediately before boarding the plane (which airlines were not previously required to do). Later, he offers the following (transcribed):

(…) No changes have been made to the order since it was first published in August 2010. And this is important, because since that time 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.

Again, note that like in Lebel’s earlier response, Poilievre only seems to care about documented trans people.

Now it’s possible that someone might raise a case that we’re not aware of, but I’d be interested in hearing if there is one, and certainly take a look at any cases what might be out there. But at this time I’m not aware of any case.

If you read the complete regulations, you’ll see that in paragraph 5.2(2)(a), it does not prevent the transgender or transsexual community to travel by air. If for medical reasons, a passenger’s facial features do not correspond to the photo on his or her identification, the air carrier may authorize the passenger to board the plane if he or she provides a medical certificate relating to this. (…)

Bizarrely, Mr. Poilievre is drawing our attention to paragraph 5.2(2)(a), which is an “exception” in the regulations, that explicitly pertains only to paragraph 5.2(1)(a), which forbids boarding if a passenger “does not resemble the photograph” on their ID.

Ms Chow’s motion was regarding 5.2(1)(c), which is the one that forbids boarding if a passenger “does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification.” The paragraph Poilievre is referring to has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the paragraph referred to in Ms Chow’s motion.

I can only conclude that Mr. Poliere either does not understand Ms Chow’s motion, or is deliberately attempting to confuse the matter in committee, or that he has no comprehension of the regulations he is defending.

He goes on to assert that because of this (unrelated and irrelevant) exception, that somehow trans people are safe from these regs being used against them in the future:

 (…) The identity screening regulations are very clear, though, and we believe they can allow the system to operate without discriminating against people based on irrelevant characteristics. And avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. So that’s the position of the government, we haven’t had an instance where an individual problem has manifested, at least not reported to us. (…) The system does seem to be working right now, and in absence of any evidence to the contrary, we would like to keep the system functioning the way it is.

NDP MP Isabelle Morin spoke next (in French). She was interrupted very shortly after beginning her statement by the bells which signalled the termination of the meeting. However, she was beginning to bring up the point that this regulation not only affects trans people, but has potential to harm other people too, such as “les personnes qui en malheureusement n’est pas toujours le physique de lors sexe… Je ne sais pas comment explique ca.” [EDIT – Sorry about my butchering of the French – I’m not francophone and I had to do my best from the recording – Christin Feb 8th 21:33] [EDIT 2 – CJ Chasin offers the following attempted transcription of Ms Morin’s Remarks: Je pense que ça va plus loin que les transsexuels et les transgenres. Je pense que ça va affecter aussi d’autres personnes qui ont malheureusement [n?] pas toujours le le le physique de leur sexe. Je ne sais pas comment expliquer ça. – Christin Feb 8th 22:21]

It’s not clear if she’s trying to describe genderqueer people, or if she’s just referring to people who randomly look androgynous. There isn’t really a French word for “genderqueer,” and so she might be struggling with that.

The live feed translator that day unhelpfully rendered it into English as “people who do not always look like what they should look like,” which is an unfortunate description to use on either genderqueer or androgynous persons.

In either case, Ms Morin would be right – this regulation could certainly harm both groups, in addition to trans people. I am looking forward to hearing her continue her remarks on Thursday morning at the next meeting.

Stay tuned! The vote may come on Thursday as well…

At the time of writing, the official full transcript was not available. All quotes above are best-effort transcription from the audio recording.


  1. Wednesday, 2012.02.08 at 12:44


    Thanks for staying on top of this. I look forward to your next post.

  2. Danielle Macdonell
    Wednesday, 2012.02.08 at 16:19

    Thank you from the wet coast, we appreciate the work you’re doing.


  3. Maie Little
    Thursday, 2012.02.09 at 16:37

    Thank you!

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Christin Milloy