Ontario Registrar is Stonewalling Trans* Birth Cert Applicants; Citing False, Unpublished Requirements
by Christin Scarlett Milloy
Published: Saturday, 2012.12.22
Once upon a time, a legal change of sex was available in Ontario only to those Trans* persons who could prove with documentation that they had completed “transsexual surgery.” Early in 2012, that requirement was found to be discriminatory in a human rights ruling. Consequently, the Ontario Registrar General was given six months to provide a new process for legal change of sex which would be accessible to all Trans* persons, as opposed to just “post-op” individuals.
The Registrar’s office released their newly revised requirements in October, less than one week before their tribunal-imposed deadline was set to expire. As I reported then, the new requirements are grossly dissatisfactory for a variety of reasons.
In addition to the points I raised at that time, anyone under 18 is outright banned from having a legal change of sex (even if their parents are cooperative). This blatant form of age discrimination, targeting already disadvantaged Trans* youth, is a fact which I unfortunately omitted in my earlier piece on the topic. Thanks go to blogger Catherine (at ex puero ad puellam) for pointing this out.
As it turns out, the problems don’t end there. I’ve received a very disturbing report which indicates the registrar is summarily rejecting applications based on nebulous requirements that are not published anywhere. Whether they are doing this on purpose or by mistake, the effect is the same.
When my source, “Illiana,” had her application rejected (after a two month wait), she wanted to know the reason why. So Illiana emailed the Deputy Registrar General and requested an explanation, and was contacted the next day by a customer service rep from the specific department of the registrar’s office tasked with verifying that applications are “complete and correct.”
The first problem with Illiana’s registration was relatively straightforward. “I didn’t provide them with the birth certificate I was issued 20 years ago… (because it was) lost 15 years ago,” she says.
In defense of the registrar, the change of sex form does say “please send … all previously issued birth certificates and certified copies of the birth registration.” Illiana’s impression from the form was that since her certificate was long gone, there weren’t any copies left to submit. However, what is really meant by the form is “must send,” and “at least one copy.” Indeed, when I legally changed my name (my parents lacking the foresight to name their son Christin), I actually had to first specifically order and pay for a replacement birth certificate, in my male birth name, only to then turn around and remail it back to the registrar to be destroyed as part of the name change process. Typical government efficiency.
Now, the legal sex change form isn’t really as clear about this requirement as it could be, so we can easily forgive Illiana. Nevertheless, the requirement to send in the old certificate is reasonable (chalk it up to security). To the registrar’s credit, rather than requiring Illiana to fork over cash for a replacement only to remail it back for destruction, the customer service rep advised her instead that she need only include a letter explaining that she isn’t in possession of a birth certificate. Fair enough, lesson learned, she can re-submit her application and move on. Right? Not so much.
Turns out there were other “problems” with Illiana’s application, revealing some previously unknown and gravely troubling barriers for Trans* persons trying to access this process.
“(The) next topic was that I didn’t include a physician’s letter,” explains Illiana. The letter Illiana did include was written not by her medical doctor, but by her psychologist. It was therefore unsuitable, explained the CSR. What? The application form clearly states “A letter (on the medical professional’s letterhead) signed by a practicing physician or a psychologist (including a psychological associate) authorized to practice in Canada.”
Illiana explains, “(the CSR) said this had to be on letterhead of a physician certified by the college of physicians and surgeons Ontario.” Unfortunately, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario does not certify psychologists; that would be a job for the similarly named, but distinct, College of Psychologists of Ontario.
This issue may have been simply due to miscommunication. However, best case, the rep is just confused, but is incompetently providing misinformation to Trans* clients. Worst case, the application form is actually erroneous, and a psych letter won’t get your application through the process.
Admirably keeping her wits about her, Illiana pointed out the discrepancy to the CSR. “Nowhere is that criteria stated on the Service Ontario website… and the application form clearly states… psychologist (is acceptable).” Of the CSR’s reaction, Illiana had this to say: “She seemed to relent, and I’m not sure whether she was trying to purposely mislead me, or she had no idea what the form read, or what psychology is.”
Based on my own experiences with government bureaucracy, I find it most likely that the rep was simply in error… however, Illiana’s reaction underscores the fundamental truth: Trans* people have little motivation to trust agencies of federal and provincial governments which – have – consistently – failed – them – at – almost – every – turn.
But wait, there’s more.
That was not the only problem with Illiana’s letter, the rep told her. In addition to the misunderstanding as to whether or not a psychologist’s letter qualifies as a letter written by a “doctor or psychologist,” apparently the registrar also disapproved of the particular phrasing in Illiana’s letter. She explains, the rep told her “the letter isn’t accepted without an explicit statement that the birth certificate change is ‘male to female.’ The Registrar rejected (my psychologist’s) letter… because it only said that the birth certificate sex designation is incorrect as it is, and should be changed.”
Really? The published guidelines given to Trans* people on the Registrar website, and on the application form itself, state that the text of the doctor or psychologist letter “c. confirms that the applicant’s gender identity does not accord with the sex designation on the applicant’s birth registration; and d. is of the opinion that the change of sex designation on the birth registration is appropriate.” Illiana says her psychologist wrote “…the birth certificate sex designation is incorrect as it is, and should be changed.” And the registrar’s office canned it because it didn’t use the magic words “male to female,” a requirement which is not published anywhere.
Infuriatingly, Illiana further reports “(the CSR) also said that several other applications such as mine have been similarly rejected.”
Are you kidding me, Registrar General? Since the Ontario registrar does not recognize non-binary identities, one wonders what could possibly be the source of confusion here. Especially given that the separate Statutory Declaration form, which must also be submitted in the same package, is explicitly filled out by the applicant with a request to change sex designation “from (fill in blank) to (fill in blank)”. Illiana’s read “male” to “female,” and her existing birth record read “male,” so it’s not as if there was any potential for misunderstanding.
Regarding the entire debacle, Illiana suggests “I have doubts that the current published criteria are understood by the Registrar’s office staff, and since they reject complete applications based on unpublished criteria, (they) are not honoring the ruling of the tribunal in good faith.” Hear, hear.
Some clarity, and a post-nonsense happy ending for Illiana?
Illiana is to be commended for challenging the transphobic discrimination she experienced at the hands of the Registrar’s office. Whether it was caused by wilfully disruptive anti-trans staff, or perhaps just institutional ignorance, it is unacceptable regardless. Because Illiana had the courage to follow-up with a challenge, she was contacted soon afterward by the Deputy Registrar, Sandra Leonetti.
“She was very nice and explained that they are in a learning mode with regard to the new requirements, and I should resubmit the package with a letter stating that I don’t have the long form birth certificate, and with the psychologist’s letter that accompanied the original application.”
That is a bit of good news for Illiana… As for anyone else who has had their application rejected under murky circumstances, you might want to get in touch with the Office of the Registrar General.
“After talking with Ms. Leonetti, I feel that she is sincere about providing fair service, including Changes of Sex Designation applications. I feel that not all people in the Registrar’s office are up to speed on everything to do with the new process. I expect that things will improve with regard to application processing as the people in that office get better acquainted with what is really required.”
It is a shame that the “learning process” at the Registrar’s office has come at the expense of Ontario Trans* people. Let us hope that they get their staff training issue under control.
Have you had a similar problem? Anyone who would like my help, or who has a story they’d like to share, please contact me.
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