Transport Ministry regulation targets trans people, sparks massive controversy
Minister Denis Lebel (pictured) has been coming under fire from trans activists, bloggers, and Members of Parliament for the transphobic implications of the startling new rule Section 5.1 (1) 3c, which critics say leaves way too much room for discrimination…
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In July 2011, a federal government regulation, known as SOR/2011-156 and entitled “Regulations Amending the Designated Provisions Regulations and the Identity Screening Regulations” – was enacted by the Minister of Transport Denis Lebel, under the authority of the Aeronautics Act. The regulatory change was able to be made by the Minister without having to obtain parliamentary approval, and therefore went largely unnoticed until it hit the blogosphere earlier this week.
Section 5.1 (1) 3c states that “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;
Trans bloggers and activists erupted in posts on Facebook and other media over the weekend; the regulatory shift has continued to yield angry posts and public statements against the regulation all the way to the House of Commons. On Wednesday, Feb 1, Justin Trudeau, MP for Montréal’s Papineau riding, spoke out against the regulation as a “direct affront against the transgender community” and lambasted the government for mistreating minorities. The NDP’s LGBT reps Dany Morin and Randall Garrison, who also spoke against the regulation during question period, co-signed a letter to Lebel (dated Jan 31) asking for Minister to “assure us that this new regulation does not discriminate against the transgendered community and will not prevent transgendered Canadians from flying?”
For Matt McLauchlin, with the NDP-Québec LGBTTQ Commission, the fact that a trans passenger can present documentation to explain that their appearance changed for medical reasons is still invasive and discriminatory. “Even someone who successfully uses a doctor’s note in response to a challenge of their gender will still have to ‘out’ themselves – i.e. disclose their status as transgender or transsexual – to an airline official. This violates both their right to privacy and their right to medical confidentiality and puts them at risk for violence and harassment,” he stated in his Q&A note linked to the Facebook group “À bas l’interdiction aérienne transphobe—Against Canada’s trans flight ban.”
But besides the bloggers, activists and MPs who weighed in on the issue, Steve Foster from the Conseil des gais et lebiennes du Québec and Xtra‘s Andrea Houston both wrote letters to Minister Lebel criticizing the not-so-new rule. The CQGL’s open letter to Lebel points out that, “many transexual and transgender people do not have ID corresponding to their seuxal identity, because it is impossible to get a name and gender re-designation in Canada without undergoing [reassignment] surgery.”
Xtra‘s letter to Minister Lebel’s office sparked anotehr flurry of controversy when their attempt to publish the Minister’s reply using online doc-sharing software Scribd was later blocked by the Ministry for “copywright violation”. Asking about the new rule’s discriminatory implications, they received this reply from press attaché Pierre Floréa:
“Our Government has ensured that the identification requirements to board an airplane in Canada are not discriminatory; they apply to all passengers, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and they do not impose barriers to any particular group.”
Any passenger whose physical appearance does not correspond to their identification can continue to board an airplane by supplying a letter from a heath care professional explaining the discrepancy. We have no records of any individual being denied boarding in Canada because they are transgender or transsexual.”
(It should be noted that Floréa’s reply cheekily ended with “Have a nice day!”). Trans activist and blogger Chris Milloy was one of the first to bring the story to light. Milloy was quick to point out in her post from Feb 2 that the Transport Ministry, in failing to allow a third gender category as countries like Australia and Pakistan have done, is not compliant with standards laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These countries ID cards “offer options of “M,” “F,” and “X.” Canada offers no such option, and is therefore not compliant,” Milloy contends.
Matt McLauchlin, a long-time supporter of transgender rights, published a note via Facebook standing that “the response of the Transport Minister was disappointing and evinced no understanding of the implications of the regulation for trans people.”
Photo IDs don’t require [gender designations] and they are of little use in telling people apart,” McLauchlin stated. “Many trans and genderqueer people would like to see gender markers on IDs done away with altogether.”