Wednesday • 2014.02.12
#FreeAvery Highlights 4 Systemic Trans* Human Rights Violations by Canadian Government
Our federal government has failed us again.
Avery Edison is a comedian and writer from London, England. After landing in Canada Tuesday, she ran into a border nightmare with Canadian Border Services Agents (customs) which resulted in her being arrested and detained at a men’s prison facility, in a case of anti-Trans* discrimination so egregious that even the Toronto Sun reported it responsibly.
Problem? Although she is female-identified, female-presenting, and travelling with a UK Passport which legally identifies her as female, she is apparently pre-operative… meaning that her beautiful natural female body does happen to include the penis to which she was born attached. During the crisis, as Avery’s partner worked desperately to determine where she had been sent, ey tweeted (1, 2) that ey was told by CBSA that Avery “had male parts, so, male prison.”
Let’s be clear about the issue here, nobody is challenging the legitimacy of CBSA stopping her or questioning her on entry to Canada. Avery herself acknowledges that her legitimacy as a potential visitor to Canada was dubious for reasons which have nothing to do with gender.
We do not deny that she once overstayed a visa. We do not deny that it was appropriate for her to be stopped and questioned by CBSA.
Here is our problem.
What the Fuck, You Do Not Send a Woman into Men’s Prison.
Seriously, Canada. I don’t even.
Canada Fails at Trans* Human Rights, Reason #1 – Institutional Assignment
It’s disgusting but it’s true. For anyone unlucky enough to run afoul of the law to the point they wind up incarcerated, your assignment to a gender-segregated facility (male or female) is not made according to your identity, how you’ve lived, how you present yourself, nor how potential prison rapists are likely to perceive you. No. They will assign you to a men’s or to a women’s prison based solely upon the results of the banana test. It’s laid out specifically in their fucked-up regulations:
35. Pre-operative male to female offenders with gender identity disorder shall be held in men’s institutions and pre-operative female to male offenders with gender identity disorder shall be held in women’s institutions.
That entire section of the regs is a rage-inducing read for anyone who values equality and truly understands Trans* people, but here are a couple of fun little bonus paragraphs from the same section (with emphasis added).
37. Sex reassignment surgery shall be considered during incarceration only when:
a) a recognized gender identity specialist has confirmed that the offender has satisfied the real life test, as described in the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, for a minimum of one year prior to incarceration;
42. Subject to operational considerations, offenders diagnosed with gender identity disorder shall be permitted to cross-dress.
This is exactly the kind of discrimination, disrespect for identity, and gross human rights violation that might successfully be challenged under bill C-279 if it would ever actually pass. Unfortunately Conservatives keep getting traction with their bewildering insistence that it’s all part of our underhanded quest to achieve perverted bathroom shenanigans.
But I digress.
Canada Fails at Trans* Human Rights, Reason #2 – Repeated Violations at CBSA
This isn’t the first time CBSA has mistreated a Trans* person. In a case last year, CBSA agents at the Peace Bridge crossing tormented Toby, a young American Genderqueer person (and by telephone, eir Canadian partner, also Genderqueer) with inappropriate questions, wrong pronouns, and accusations regarding mental health for several hours before finally turning em back at the border.
Canada customs hardly enjoys the planetary monopoly on mistreating Trans* people; Americans have done it to one of ours as well… but this is one area where Canada can, and should, be setting a positive example for the rest of the world.
Toby’s experience, plus #FreeAvery, adds up to a huge problem in CBSA with a lack of proper staff training about Trans* issues. Does the government train CBSA agents on handling subjects like disability issues, cultural sensitivity, and same-sex relationships? Probably. Mind you, CBSA’s explicit anti-discrimination policy only covers the Human Rights Act’s currently protected grounds.
While in Ms. Avery Edison’s case, the actual denial of entry was due to legitimate visa concerns, the reason ultimately given by CBSA as Toby’s “biggest roadblock” to admission was “documentation.” The problem with eir documentation was that it didn’t match the pronouns ey asked CBSA to use, and because ey “suspiciously” used a different given name in conversation than that which was printed on eir Passport and bus ticket.
Which brings me to my next point.
Canada Fails at Trans* Human Rights, Reason #3 – Access to, handling of, ID Documents
As much as I don’t place much stock in legal gender identification, it’s worthy of note that Ms. Edison’s UK passport reads female. But forget that—the important thing here is that Avery’s actual gender identity is female. Many countries don’t offer Trans* people equal access to appropriate ID. The UK is exceptional in that way.
At the provincial level, Ontario throws up extra barriers to Trans* people seeking appropriate ID, and still requires them to submit to clinical pathologization of their identity as a diagnosed mental disorder—and even then, the process is unclear and unreliable. A handful of other provinces operate similarly, but most provincial registrars are even worse for Trans* people than Ontario.
Federally, the situation is even worse. Needless to say, non-binary identities are disregarded as completely and utterly invalid. You can’t get a gender-free passport from Canada, even though gender-free passports are a valid part of the international standard to which Canada is a signatory nation. For those Trans* people who identify as one of either M or F, whether they can change their passport, or their SIN, or any other federal document or database, is dependent entirely on whether they can produce Identity documents from another jurisdiction which already show their “new” gender.
So if you’re an immigrant from another country like China or India, or even if you’re a Canadian from one of the less progressive provinces, you are simply out of luck.
Shouldn’t we have the right to access dignified gender-appropriate identity documents, like any average person enjoys on a daily basis? Yeah, we damn-well should.
Canada Fails at Trans* Human Rights, Reason #4 – Banned from Airplanes
Fun fact: to this day, any person presenting a non-cisgender gender expression is forbidden by federal regulations from riding an airplane in Canada (since 2010). Federal legislators are well aware of this, and some of the decent ones are concerned to the point that it became a topic of heated debate in the legislature in 2012.
For those keeping score, even after this became a viral news story which embarrassed Canada all over the free world, Conservative MPs then voted to keep the ban on Trans* people flying, and they won because they carry the biggest stick in Ottawa right now.
I try not to worry about this, because all evidence seems to indicate that flight gate attendants across the country are simply ignoring these ridiculous regulations, and Trans* people are (illegally) flying all over the place without incident. However, that doesn’t change the fact that this regulation is very real and could create a new incident at any time… and probably to somebody who’s not lucky or connected enough to bring down a social media shit-storm when it happens.
If only there were some way of addressing absolute nonsense like this.
So there it is.
Following the outcry, Avery has been moved into a women’s facility, and that’s great. She’ll soon be home in the UK, no doubt sharing her tale of Canada’s warm hospitality shown to Trans* visitors. The #FreeAvery incident is a tragic Canadian failure, and it’s awful that it happened… but the story is far from over.
#FreeAvery has drawn media attention to the continuing plight of Trans* people, giving us the opportunity to reflect and spread awareness about the systemic problems. These problems need to be addressed, and the public awareness and pressure needs to build until dealing with these problems becomes a priority for those in power. If Avery’s ordeal is to serve any positive purpose, it should be to help catalyze a process of change.
For those of you in Toronto, I’ll be seeing you at the Free Avery Edison Rally this Saturday
in Queen’s Park at 2PM. 11am and Moved, see link for details.
Some people tell me I come across as very militant on these sorts of issues. If it seems that way, it’s probably because this is absolutely fucking infuriating and you should feel that way too.