Canada: we reserve the right to strip you

Fears that Canadian laws potentially prohibiting trans men and women from flying were the revenge of right-wing politicians would appear to be ill-founded. However, the official response from the Canadian government to worldwide concern over this issue remains complacent and misleading – if not actually dishonest.

It also left open the possibility that in pursuing this issue, they might at some future date actually carry out intimate body checks.

After the story broke earlier this week, i spoke with officials over at the Canadian Transport Ministry. They were quick to point out that regulations requiring an air carrier to refuse to transport a passenger if they do not “appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents” were no more than a re-issuing of previous reg’s passed in 2007.

And so it is. Just head over to the Canadian Dept of Justice website, and you will find that this regulation was put in place four years ago. For so much, therefore, Canada is owed an apology: this is not newly-minted discrimination. This is old stuff.

Its a “security” issue, stoopid!

Dishonesty, however, sets in when trying to get to the bottom of WHY Canada needs to have this clause in place. First, the Ministry spokeswoman trotted out the old, tired cliché of “security”. As though, having spoken the magic word, all opposition should magically vanish.

But that no longer works. I have been evaluating security issues professionally for long enough to know that the real devil is in the detail. What’s the regulation meant to achieve. Does it do this?

And this particular regulation absolutely does not do what it says on the packet. The spokeswoman went on a bit about how this was to ensure that the individual looked like the person on their photo identity and pointed out exemptions from this rule where the traveller carried with them a letter explaining medical procedures that might have changed their facial appearance.

Ah, yes. This is press office trick number 89: just keep wittering on about a load of stuff that is perfectly true – but actually irrelevant to the subject in hand – thereby taking time, baffling the journo and maybe distracting them from the real point.

“So what?” is the correct response to this waffle. The regs also state – quite reasonably – that air lines should not carry an individual who “presents a piece of photo identification and does not resemble the photograph”.

Sorted. You could add, as the UK does, simple biometrics, like iris scan and fingerprints. But that’s the job done: if the would-be passenger does not look like they should, then they don’t get to fly.

Economical with the truth…

So-o… how does adding a provision that they don’t, according to the subjective view of the airport official, “look like the gender that is recorded in their passport”. How does that work? Were they – i asked – intending to back this up with intimate searches?

No answer.

And this is where the dishonesty sets in. Because apart from claiming security, the official spokesbody added a few more points. This reg, she said, was actually just a reg required by the ICAO, a body that governs international flying and to which most major nations were signed up. Also, this reg was the same as regs applied by other countries.

Ah. I’m used to that one, as well. “The same as” is often press office speak for “looks a bit like”. So along with asking whether intimate scans were on the cards, i asked if they could send me a copy of the ICAO regs for comparison. No answer.

I also spoke to other government bodies outside Canada. The UK, f’rinstance, where neither Dept of Transport nor Border Agency were using anything of the sort. Sure. They had to be satisfied that someone was who they said they were when flying. But they didn’t need this gender test to prove it.

What’s sex got to do with it?

Am i being unfair? A little: but not by much. I have asked the above questions about intimate searches, ICAO regs and other governments three times now…and the response has been deafening silence. That leads me to think that actually, Canada has implemented ICAO principles – but done it “their way”.

The sexist way. The trans discriminatory way. And while another spokesperson happily informed me that no-one had ever ACTUALLY been barred from flying under this reg, that really isn’t the point.

I mean, i have never actually barred any Canadians from my house. But maybe, written down in my secret book, is a rule that i could implement one day to the effect that Canadians are not welcome. Would they like that? Would that be racist, no matter how few Canadians i excluded on those grounds?

No: the real issue here is that the regulation doesn’t serve any purpose – beyond shining a light on the trans community and making trans men and women feel excluded. And in refusing to come clean on how it meets Canada’s international commitments, by substituting spin for honest answers, their officials have done that country a disservice, giving an impression of duplicity and close-mindedness, when a little more honest dialogue was all that was needed.

jane xx


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Leigh Smythe said,

    Pardon me, but the flight regulations are not the issue at all. The real issue is the inflexibility in allowing gender/body mismatched people to change their identity cards and passports to the identity that reflects their daily lives. Instead of complaining about being discriminated against in flying, if the identity documents were accurate this regulation could be allowed and have no effect. In addition, some sort of identity papers should always be allowed for those who are in legal transition to their target gender identity. Let’s focus on the real problem or discriminatory practice.
    Leigh Smythe

    • 2

      Leigh is absolutely right about access to proper ID for trans people.

      Although, we do also need to ditch this pathetic regulation in the mean time.


    • 3

      janefae said,

      How strange. I wrote a resply to this…but wordpress seems to have eaten it.

      My own response is a rather more cautious “up to a point”. I agree with yourself and Christin that less bureaucracy and fewer obstacles around the identification issue would help greatly. Still, i DO think that the flight regulations are an issue.

      From having worked on this issue over here in the UK with government, what quickly comes out is how pointless trying to use gender in this way is. It really does not help…does not add greatly to the process. So the regulation IS at fault and DOES need to be challenged, because it comes out of lazy, sloppy thinking by government.

      Just follow the logic thru. The primary requirement is about looking like your pic. Then there’s a load of stuff about having a medical letter where you don’t LOOK like your pic, but there is a medical reason for looking different.

      Yes: that applies where someone has transitioned and not yet updated their pic. But its a consequence of out-of-date pic-ness: not some gender appearance thing.

      I asked the Canadian Ministry several times how a subjective assessment of gender helped in any way to establish whether an individual ressembled their image. Time and time again, they just asserted that it was “helpful”, while absolutely refusing to answer the direct question.

      Which, in my experience, is evidence of a press office knowing its been caught out and paddling furiously, refusing to acknowledge it.

      I’d also question whether id docs WOULD help. Some individuals transition and slot effortlessly into their identified gender, physically. Others will always attract SOME looks from the rude and ignorant. They won’t definitely pass, will always be slightly in-between.

      Some cis folk have that same prob, as any butch woman who has ever been quewtioned about her presence in the female loos will attest. So, if you keep this reg, some folk are going to have difficulties WHATEVER it says on their passport, unless you go the Australian route and allow an “x” for unspecified.

      jane x

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