International News

Canadian LGBT Human Rights Organisation calls for trans* action

Besi Besemar July 9, 2014

Egale, the Canadian Human Rights Trust is calling for immediate action on the gender segregation of trans* people in Canadian correctional facilities.

Avery Edison
Avery Edison

British comedienne Avery Edison has filed human rights complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Canadian Human Rights Commission about her “outrageous treatment” at Pearson Airport and her subsequent detention at a men’s prison, despite her identification as a woman. Egale Canada strongly condemns the treatment of Edison and her placement in a men’s facility.

Helen Kennedy, Executive Director of Egale, said: “Edison’s experience with Canadian correctional authorities as a transgender woman mirrors the experience of trans people in detention and correctional facilities across Canada.”

Kennedy went on to say that federal and provincial governments must immediately address the wrongful gender segregation of trans* people in Canadian correctional facilities and to comply with their obligations under Canadian human rights law.

The placement of trans* people in Canadian correctional facilities raises serious human rights concerns. In the face of outdated, unclear, or nonexistent policy guidelines, corrections officials make placement decisions primarily on genitals, rather than on the individual’s legal sex or self-identification.

Trans* people report experiencing high levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence while in custody. The only alternative correctional institutions offer them is long-term solitary confinement. The United Nations Special Rapporteur has identified this practice as a form of torture.

Edison’s case is one of two high-profile cases that demonstrate that this pressing human rights issue requires immediate action from both federal and provincial governments.

In February 2014, Edison, a transgender woman from the United Kingdom, was detained by officials at Pearson Airport for overstaying a previous student visa. Despite her legal status as a woman, she was placed in a men’s correctional facility. After international outcry, she was transferred to the adjacent women’s facility.

That same month, Katlynn Griffith, a trans* woman from Cornwall, Ontario, was placed in a holding cell with four men at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. After Griffith expressed concerns about her safety, she was placed in protective custody with two men accused of engaging in sex crimes. After spending the night in protective custody with these two men, she was transferred to the women’s section of the facility. Griffith reported being subjected to homophobic and transphobic slurs by inmates, and being referred to as ‘it’ by prison officials.

These are not isolated incidents. A 2013 report from Trans PULSE, a community-based, academic research group, notes that trans* people are placed in inappropriate facilities and subjected to discrimination, harassment, and violence throughout Canada every day.

As a community that experiences overwhelming rates of discrimination, unemployment and underemployment, poverty, harassment, and violence, trans people regularly come into contact with the criminal justice system.

A 2010 survey of 443 trans Ontarians conducted by Trans PULSE found that 43% of respondents had attempted suicide, 20% had been targets of physical or sexual assaults, and 34% had been verbally harassed or threatened.

Both recent cases demonstrate that federal and provincial governments are not complying with their obligations under their respective human rights codes, recent human rights caselaw, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.

Egale calls on federal and provincial governments to develop new placement guidelines for trans people in correctional facilities.

These guidelines must include:

• Allowing trans* people to determine whether they wish to be housed in a men’s facility or a women’s facility, regardless of whether they have undergone surgeries;

• Conducting an internal review of all policies and practices in federal and provincial correctional facilities in consultation with trans community organizations;

• Developing training programs in consultation with trans community organizations to ensure that all corrections officials understand their human rights obligations; and

• Considering non-custodial alternatives that take into account other categories of identity and experience, including race, socioeconomic status, and disability.