Impact of Trans Discriminatory Airline Regulations

by | February 11, 2012
filed under Can-Con, LGBT, Politics

In the round-up from two weeks ago I shared a link from Christin Milloy’s blog, which reported on trans discriminatory changes to Canadian air travel identity screening regulations. According to Milloy:

The offending section of the regulations reads:

5.2 (1) 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…


So what does this mean? Well, in order to change the ‘sex’ designation on a Canadian Passport, the federal government requires proof that surgery has taken place, or will take place within one year. So for non-operative transgender persons, for gender nonconforming (genderqueer) persons, and for the vast majority of pre-operative transsexual persons, it is literally impossible to obtain proper travel documentation marked with the sex designation which “matches” the gender identity in which they live.

Now this is not a piece of new legislation, which would’ve had to be debated and voted upon in the House of Commons, but it is a change in regulation implemented by the Ministry of Transportation. In other words, the government could change this if they really wanted to, without requiring new legislation to be passed.

It might be tempting to wonder whether this would have a real impact on travel for trans people. It might be tempting to think that surely the people actually implementing the regulations would be more tolerant and educated than to question a difference in gender between a person and their ID.

But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that where the government presents the opening in such a highly-regulated area as airport security, at least some trans people will be subject to unfair questioning and rights-violating travel restrictions.

Now it’s clear the Conservative government didn’t just present the opening without thinking: they are sanctioning trans discriminatory regulations. When NDP MP Olivia Chow put forward an emergency motion in Committee to repeal the regulations, the Conservatives defeated it in a recorded vote.

Tucker Bottomley of Halifax told Yahoo! News that he’s worried about the effects the new screening regulation will have on him and other trans travellers. He told them he has already had difficult moments at the airport because his passport lists his birth name and gender:

“I was going through the metal detector and I beeped and they pulled me aside and they thought that I was a boy,” he said Friday. “So, the guy body guard started to pat me down a little bit and then he sort of stopped for a second and asked me if I was a girl…It’s kind of worrisome because no one wants to be judged in a public place on, you know, what their identification card says as opposed to what they look like in person.”

US Customs has had issues implementing similar restrictions. Pink News tells the story of Newfoundlander Jennifer McCreath, who was detained at the airport by US Customs Officials and subjected to “secondary screening” where she was photographed and fingerprinted because her birth certificate displayed her birth gender”

A further 90 minutes elapsed before anyone else spoke to her: since other individuals were dealt with in the intervening minutes, there is some concern that this was done deliberately in order to ensure she would miss her plane.

There then followed a search of her bags and according to Ms McCreath: “They started asking me all sorts of bizarre personal questions about my sexuality.” They also asked a number of intrusive and personal questions about surgery they assumed she had had, as well as questioning her about her medication and the purpose of a highly intimate device – a dilator – that they discovered in her luggage.

This last part occurred even though McCreath was carrying with her a doctor’s note about the device and why it was urgent that she be allowed to carry it on board.

The new restrictions are clearly discriminatory as they require trans people to obtain different documentation (Transport Canada says if trans people want to avoid difficulty they should bring a medical certificate) and open them up to subjective gender identification by customs and security officers.

Transport Canada argues they’re necessary to help officers match passport pictures to their owners, but Australia has adopted new gender-neutral passports, and the International Civil Aviation Organization states that any member countries (including Canada) may create passports with an “X” option for gender. Canada already recognizes these passports for citizens from other countries.

Christin Milloy, who’s been leading the fight against this, is encouraging Canadians (trans or cis or intersex) to apply for these “Sex-Unspecified”  passports. You can also do this while renewing your current passport. If you’re interested in joining in, Milloy lays out the details here.

It’s also a good time to put pressure on (especially Conservative) MPs and just to generally talk more about these issues. Injustice thrives on ignorance so the  more we can do to show the unfairness behind these new regulations, the better.





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