Human Rights Complaint Filed for Trans People

Centre for Gender Advocacy Petitions for Quebec Civil Code Amendment

Students gather for a talk by trans author Julia Serano. The Centre for Gender Advocacy has filed a complaint with the Quebec human rights commission to make amendments to the Quebec Civil Code. Photo Anil Ram

Sonya Fiset was at a loss when she tried explaining what it was like for her to grow up in a man’s body.

At age 12, she already felt the need to make a change, but wasn’t able to begin her transition until seven years later. “All that time, I knew I had to do something about it, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the resources,” she said.

“I was downright suicidal. It’s hard to put into words for people who aren’t trans to understand. It’s a constant pressure on your shoulder, and it’s like everything you do, every activity you try to enjoy…”

Grasping for words, she switches to French and settles on the expression: “être mal dans sa peau.”

“It’s 24/7,” she added, “and for some people it lasts for decades.”

Last November, when Fiset was 24, she obtained legal recognition of her gender and received her new ID documents in the mail. “It felt great,” she recalled. “It gave me a peace of mind that everyone else takes for granted.”

Human Rights Complaint

The Centre for Gender Advocacy, an independent, Concordia student-funded organization that promotes gender equality and empowerment, is trying to make the procedure for changing one’s legal gender easier for those like Fiset.

According to the Quebec Civil Code, anyone who wishes to change their gender marker—represented by the little M or F on their identification cards—must first undergo sexual reassignment surgery, vaginoplasty for trans women or a hysterectomy for trans men. These surgeries are covered by Medicare, but the associated costs are not. They must also hold Canadian citizenship and be at least 18 years old.

In a complaint filed with the Quebec Commission for Human Rights and Youth Rights on August 11, the Centre calls for ending the surgical modification requirement, opening the process to non-citizens, and reducing the minimum age to 14, or younger with parental consent.

To pay for legal expenses, the Centre has started a crowdsource funding campaign. So far, it has raised nearly $1,900 of its $6,000 goal.

Gabrielle Bouchard, Peer Support and Trans Advocacy Coordinator at the Centre, says the prerequisite for surgery amounts to “forced sterilization.”

“Some people do want body modification, but others don’t,” she said. “At the end of the day, the only similarity between those two [surgeries] is that you can’t make babies.”

Even after years of appearance-altering hormone therapy, Fiset still wasn’t allowed to change her legal gender identity. On her visits to a hospital or medical clinic, she had to endure the humiliation of having to stand up in front of a room of strangers when a nurse called out her old name, with the prefix ‘Mr.’

“They call out your [old] name over the intercom and if you ignore it you miss your appointment but if you get up you’re ‘outed’ to a room of people,” she said.

“About every recurring incident of suicidal ideation had to do with a case of having to deal with my old name,” she added.

Bill 35

In June, just before breaking for the summer, the National Assembly was considering a bill that would make it easier for trans people to change their gender markers.

Bill 35 would have eliminated the requirement to publish a notice of one’s name change and personal address in the National Assembly’s official gazette and a local newspaper.

The bill was poised for adoption, but was delayed at the last minute by a Liberal filibuster. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said consultations on the bill would resume this fall.

“The amendment was brought up on the last day of the session,” Gilles Ouimet, Liberal justice critic, told The Link. “There are questions we need to address before we proceed to make the change. That doesn’t mean we aren’t for it.”

For Bouchard, the Liberals are skirting the debate. “They engaged in positive ways on other aspects of the bill [….] The only moment when they absolutely refused to engaged in conversation was when it came to trans issues,” she said.

She argues that the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“The bill only addresses the requirement for publication. It doesn’t address anything else as far as trans realities go, or the legal equality for trans people,” she said.

“Just Leap”

Fiset is now 25 and has carried out her male-to-female transition, but she says she still has to live with the anxiety caused by years of waiting for legal recognition of her gender. She suffers from migraines and has been receiving disability insurance since July.

Although she has a professional diploma in computer support, she hasn’t been able to find a job—not for want of trying. She applied to be a junior computer technician, a store clerk, and a line cook, without any luck.

“Even McDonald’s wouldn’t hire me,” she said.

But now that she feels comfortable in her own skin, she’s no longer depressed. She has just finished the first page of a comic book, which she describes as a story “set in a steampunk fantasy world about three characters who meet on a dark stormy night. Their lives get thrown off track and they end up on an adventure together.”

While the comic doesn’t feature any trans characters, it’s hard not to read some of Fiset’s own personal story into the working title of her comic book: Just Leap.