The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms introduced the right to gender identity or expression only in 2017. In January 2022 the federal government banned therapeutic conversion that allowed one to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity which made Canadian criminal laws on these practices one of the most inclusive in the world. Now Statistics Canada has for the first time in its history separated “birth sex” from gender in the latest 2021 censuses. Small big changes that show us that Canada is paying attention and with that comes room for new debates that can change and make life easier for generations to come.
In Ontario it is allowed to change the gender designation as long as there are supporting documents. This way you can choose F (female); M (male), or X (non-binary). The request can be made by either the parents or the children themselves, depending on the age of the child. Regardless of whether it is the parents or the child who initiates the process, a letter from a doctor or a qualified psychologist is required. This document serves as support for the request to change gender designation. The process is funded by the provincial government, and be aware that even after changing the birth certificate, all other documents, such as the driver’s licence, must be changed.
Doug Elliott Grew is an LGBT rights lawyer with an office in Cambridge, Ont. Grew grew up in a small community in Elliott Lake, Ont and in 2016 was a key figure in one of the largest class action lawsuits brought against the federal government over discrimination against LGBTQ members in the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Awarded by the University of Toronto for his fight to defend the rights of this community, Grew is vice-president of the American Bar Association Section of International Law, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues Networks (GIN).
For this expert the new statistics do not reveal that being transgender or non-binary is more common among young people than older people. “Our society and governments are only now coming to understand how many transgender people there are. I believe that young people are more self-aware. I had a college professor who did not accept her true gender and had surgery when she was over 60! There will be many more in the future. We are just beginning to understand that there are many people who are intersex or otherwise do not fit into traditional binary categories. They are not the majority, but they are not as rare as once thought,” he said.
For Grew the government should change its approach and stop insisting on categorizing people by gender in official identification documents. “We should ask ourselves: why is this information necessary at all? For example, ‘M’ on my driver’s license. Why does a traffic cop need to know what I look like from the waist down? It should be as irrelevant as my blood type or my religion,” he says.
But while gender reassignment is fully funded by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), the same is not true for gender reassignment surgery. “Getting access to good quality medical services is a challenge for these people. Most who seek these types of procedures and who live in Ontario have to travel to Montreal or Thailand for medical care. Something that can be very expensive,” he laments.
Asked by our newspaper whether public services and businesses are inclusive enough to embrace this group of people who do not identify with any of the traditional binary categories, the lawyer acknowledges that despite “progress in their acceptance and welcome,” there is still a long way to go. “Transgender people are not always well understood and are more likely to be victims of violence, to be unemployed and to commit suicide, even more than gays and lesbians. We have never had an openly transgender person in our Federal Cabinet or as a judge on our Supreme Court, for example. As far as I know, there is no openly trans person in the House of Commons, although there are several openly gay men,” he says.
Although Canada is a world leader in LGBT rights, the conquests have happened mainly at the level of gay and lesbian rights. Grew cites the case of Australia which is much further ahead on gender identity and says that the US is a bad example. “We have not been a leader on gender identity. Some transgender people point out this difference by saying that here, the T in LGBT is silent. Gender identity was only added to our federal human rights law in the last Parliament, and the bill had to overcome a lot of opposition. We are ahead of most of the world on LGBT rights in general, but we are still catching up with some other democracies, like Australia, on gender identity and intersex status. I think sometimes Canadians think we are very progressive because we compare ourselves to the US, but they are a bad example. Things are getting worse for transgender people there, not better. The US is not the ‘leader of the free world’ when it comes to LGBT rights,” he avers.
Just to clarify: non-binary describes a gender identity that cannot be categorized as male or female, while transgender is used to describe anyone who has a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth.
The process to change gender designation at Service Ontario is lengthy and can drag on for months, and in the end can be approved or rejected, which can make it difficult for these people to access mundane things like jobs, school, or housing.