Sex Reassignment Surgery in Canada

by | November 23, 2010
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT


Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Last week Conservative Public Safety Minister Vic Toews instructed the Correctional Service of Canada to stop performing sex reassignment surgery for transgender federal inmates, at least four of whom have sought the procedure since 2008.
Speaking to QMI Agency, Toews said, “The courts have ruled that CSC must provide essential medical services to inmates. However, we do not believe that sex change surgery is an essential medical service or that Canadian taxpayers should pay for sex change surgery for criminals”. The problem is Mr. Toews’ rationale comes more out of social conservatism than it does from medical evidence. In 2001 the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled sex reassignment surgery (SRS) an “essential medical treatment”, and in 2003, a federal court agreed. Now the NDP is calling on the federal government to reinstate coverage.

“Minister Toews’ decision completely misrepresents SRS.  There is nothing elective about SRS.  SRS is not cosmetic.  It is a medically necessary process for people who are diagnosed with gender identity disorder.  That medical necessity does not change solely because someone is incarcerated,” said Bill Siksay, NDP Critic for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual Issues.

But federal prisons aren’t the only area where we have a problem with access to SRS. Coverage for SRS procedures is inconsistent across Canada and people in some provinces people are required to jump through more hoops than in others (for a good overview, check out this interactive map via That’s not in keeping with the Canada Health Act, which mandates accessible, comprehensive, universal health care. Again, the patchwork of services available comes from the mistaken view that these surgeries are elective and cosmetic. While not all trans people experience gender in a way that makes them need to change their physical sex, for those who do, these procedures are anything but elective.

And yet, in Alberta, Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick, no surgeries are covered. Patients have to move to another province and qualify for coverage there in order to get assistance. In Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, patients have to travel to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto in order to be assessed prior to having approval for surgery. Even where procedures are covered, often after years of assessments and waiting, provinces often don’t reimburse travel costs or costs of related medical supplies.

Egale Canada advocates for greater access to SRS and related medical procedures because they can alleviate discomfort associated with Gender Identity Disorder: “Failure to remedy feelings of dysphoria can cause significant health care concerns. Health issues transsexual persons face include; depression, anxiety, anger, stress, drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, childhood trauma, self-harm and suicide.” Egale argues that helping people with GID access SRS can actually lower health care costs by preventing these health issues.

But even if that weren’t true, denying full coverage of SRS and related procedures to Canadians who need them – incarcerated or not – is an attack on equality and diversity and a fundamental break with our commitment to public health care.


, , , , , ,

  • Thank you so, so much for posting this, Jarrah. It is very true that failing to treat gender dysphoria through SRS can cause significant health concerns, particularly mental health concerns, and failing to treat inmates’ health problems constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, the deprivation of health care is considered a form of torture under UN conventions.

  • great post, thanks for sharing

  • Meg

    My wife is going for SRS in 4 days! There were so many hoops to jump through to get any help from OHIP that we decided to pay out of pocket to save the rejection & heart ache…aprox $18,000 to $20,000. This is a medical need, it is the only Definitive treatment. We are blessed to have been able to work hard and save up some monies. Luckilly we are modest & don’t require the fancy things in life…we would rather be healthy than have afancy house/car/tv etc…our priorties are each other & our family well being

  • Kerry

    Hey jarrah thanks for the post

  • amanda hunter

    The SRS operation is far cheaper then conciling someone who tries to commite suicide. a prison in the US did not want to pay for a transsexual inmate it would have cost less than a dollar a day after 3 months she tried to kill her self. she was in a hosiptal for over a month it cost the prison over 100,000 dollars.

  • amanda hunter

    sorry forgot to put in it was for hormone pills.and the warden called her a thing. he should look in the mirror first.

  • Misty

    PLZZZ i cant take this tucking anymore i have no help no justice no money no system to get my sergery and i cant move im to poor to move province so can anyone do something that New Brunswick helps me nowwwww

  • Pingback: How about an Opt out Option – yukon free press()